Scout movement 'threatened by cuts'
The future of the Scout movement is being threatened because of "enormous" rent increases by councils trying to raise revenue in the face of Government spending cuts, it has been warned.
Scout groups across the UK are facing increases of thousands of pounds a year to rent buildings in which to hold meetings and events, which could force some to close.
The Scout Association said at least 2,000 groups had been warned of rent increases which could lead them to reduce outdoor activities, increase subscriptions or even be wound up altogether.
Examples of rent hikes included Banstead Scout Group, which has received a request from Surrey County Council for an increase in rent from £135 to £10,500 a year; the 23rd Camberwell Group in London, which faced a £7,000 bill this year having previously rented school rooms for free; and the 9th Watford Group which has been told its nominal £7.50 a year rent is increasing to £650.
The association said it understood that councils were looking at new ways to raise money, but it warned that increasing rents risked the future of scout groups and the valuable voluntary work they carry out. The contribution of adults working millions of hours every year for free in the Scout movement is estimated to be worth £380 million.
Chief Scout Bear Grylls said: "It is completely counter-productive for councils to charge Scouts such enormous rent increases. These crippling rises jeopardise the future of Scouting and the enormous amount of voluntary work we provide to communities week-in, week-out.
"We're not asking councils for money. We simply ask that they continue to recognise the importance of Scouting in their area. I hope that all those groups affected will get involved in this campaign and help their local councils see sense."
David Moreton, a Scout leader from the 1st Raunds Scout Group in Northamptonshire, said: "In the last year the hourly rent charged to my Scout Group by the county council has risen by 50%. We have had to raise the costs we charge our Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and also raise an extra £5,000 a year to cover these and other increased costs.
"I know this is not just a problem that impacts on our group but all those groups in Northamptonshire that rent facilities from the local authority. We know times are tough but all we want is a fair and reasonable rent."
The association has mounted a campaign against rent increases, pointing out that traditionally councils have only charged nominal fees.