Scouts dealt blow in rate relief fight

Scout leaders say the future of the 1st Bispham group has been thrown into doubt following a tenfold increase in ground rent by Blackpool Council. Pictured preparing explanatory letters to every prospective and current councillor are scouts Jake Sharratt (left) and Curtis Farrar, with L-R: Assistant Group Scout Leader Darrell Shuck, Scout Leader Pete Sandry and District Commissioner Steve Williamson.
Scout leaders say the future of the 1st Bispham group has been thrown into doubt following a tenfold increase in ground rent by Blackpool Council. Pictured preparing explanatory letters to every prospective and current councillor are scouts Jake Sharratt (left) and Curtis Farrar, with L-R: Assistant Group Scout Leader Darrell Shuck, Scout Leader Pete Sandry and District Commissioner Steve Williamson.
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SCOUTS feel they have been dealt a cruel blow by council chiefs after their pleas for reduced rates were thrown out.

The youngsters and their leaders had submitted a petition with more than 2,300 signatures to ask the council to consider offering discretionary rate relief for their premises.

Steve Williamson, district commissioner for Scouts in Blackpool, said: “Scout groups in Lancaster and Chorley receive the rate relief. Scout Groups in Blackpool don’t.

“The work we do with young people keeps them out of trouble. The cost of that, with respect of the legal service and social services, that is a cost we are stopping from happening.

Amount

“We believe we contribute a substantial amount to working with young people.”

Rates have to be paid for buildings at 1st Norbreck, 5th Blackpool, a storage space on Harrowside Bridge in South Shore, and 1st Bispham.

They already benefit from a mandatory 80 per cent rate relief, which is paid back to the council by central Government, but say they have never received the discretionary extra 20 per cent relief.

Mr Williamson added: “We feel the 20 per cent rate relief – £1,125 – would be a small figure for the council to lose compared to the value we add.”

The petition also campaigned for the council to reverse its decision to raise ground rent for 1st Bispham from £10 to £1,400 per year.

But the Scout leaders and council officers had already been able to negotiate an “acceptable” – although still high in the Scouts’ opinion – rent of £700.

Discretionary rate relief is currently given to two organisations in Blackpool – the RNLI and the Red Cross.

Coun Simon Blackburn, leader of the council, said: “We give rate relief to two organisations in the borough – we give awards to the value of £6,500 collectively.

“As a former Scout, I understand the value of the organisation. It’s important to put the request into context.

“At present the Scouts qualify for mandatory rate relief.

“The council must give thought to its finances and its tax payers’.

“The implication of granting the Scouts the discretionary payment they seek, while affordable in itself, would be to open the floodgates to a whole host of other equally venerable institutions, and that is a burden I am not prepared to ask tax payers to fund.”

Coun Blackburn also disclosed 1st Bispham Scout group has £377,000 in the bank.

Councillors voted – 23 against 13 – to take no further action regarding discretionary rate relief.

But Mr Williamson explained 1st Bispham Scouts’ money relates to a legacy they were recently left by a woman in Anchorsholme, which has been ring-fenced to be used to expand their Scout premises on Devonshire Road.

He added: “The other Scout groups aren’t in that position. The rate relief would help them significantly. We are obviously disappointed by the council’s decision.”