It's Scout of order! AM raises concern over number of Flintshire groups hit by business rate charges

Reporter:

David Humphreys

Concerns over business rates being charged to scout groups have been raised in the Senedd once again.

Mark Isherwood, North Wales Conservative AM, reiterated his concern that 16 scout groups across Flintshire were required to pay business rates.

As revealed in the Leader in May last year, the local authority pulled its financial support that covered 20 per cent of business rates for the youth organisations.

The other 80 per cent is covered by the Welsh Government but now groups, including the one at Mynydd Isa, will be hit with charges of £570.

In Connah’s Quay, the group’s organising committee have had to fork out a further £375 on top of their existing expenses.

Flintshire Council said it recognised the role of the Scouts in communities they serve but “significant budget gaps due to reducing central government funding” and the need to maintain “vital” council services meant a change was being made.

A petition calling for an end to business rates charges on Scout groups was launched three weeks ago and has won the support of thousands, including Chief Scout Bear Grylls.

Mr Isherwood, who first raised the matter with Assembly Members last summer, has now called for a Welsh Government Statement on the matter, expressing concern that Flintshire’s position could prompt other local authorities to follow suit.

He said: “You might have seen in the last week widespread coverage of Bear Grylls’s support, as the Chief Scout in the UK, of the petition in Flintshire, which by then had gathered 7,700 signatures, against Flintshire Council’s unique proposal so far among councils in Wales to remove discretionary rate relief from Scout groups where they have their own headquarter buildings.

“This will affect 16 Scouting groups in Flintshire, but only raises for the council somewhere around, at a maximum, £6,000 a year, at high cost given the social benefits that the Scouting groups are delivering in the communities in which they work.

“Now, you might state that this is a matter for the council’s budget, but the potential precedent this could set across Wales is concerning more widely.

“I therefore call for a statement on the matter.”

Julie James AM, Leader of the House, said the matter was for the local authority and a “discretionary decision”.

Mr Isherwood said: “Scout Groups should not pay business rates and a tax on children is wrong.

“The tiny cost saving involved is also a false economy, where Scout Groups are actually relieving cost pressures on council services.

“This council should instead work smarter, acknowledging the independent research which has found that Scouting helps young people build key skills, has a positive impact on mental well-being and helps with future employability.”

Clare Budden, Flintshire Council’s chief officer for community and enterprise, previously told the Leader, said it was no longer possible to provide the discretionary 20 per cent support because of “severe financial pressures” but the council would support a national debate where concerns “of the Scout movement and other voluntary organisations can be heard.”

She said: “Business rates levels are set by Welsh Government and collected by local authorities on their behalf.

“National funding is provided to support local charities and voluntary groups to cover 80 per cent of their business rates.

“In the past, the remaining 20 per cent has been covered by their respective local authority from their own budget.

“Given the severe financial pressures local authorities are facing, it is no longer possible to provide the discretionary 20 per cent from local budgets.

“Early in 2017, the council contacted organisations expected to make a 20 per cent rate contribution from April and signposted charities and voluntary groups to apply for Hardship Rate Relief if there was genuine financial hardship.

“Given that the setting of business rates is a government responsibility, then petitioners should be directing their concerns to Welsh Government to make their case for a reform of the business rate relief system.

“The council would support a national debate where the concerns of the Scout movement and other voluntary organisations can be heard.”

Email:

david.humphreys@nwn.co.uk

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  • kevinweston20

    21:09, 14 January 2018

    In Nannerch the local community raised £1700 at the Christmas afternoon event to support the Memorial Hall. Now £500 will go to Flintshire Council to pay the business rate. Why don’t the local councillors donate to their local scouts and halls from their £1,500,000 in expenses. If they Gift Aid they will only have to donate 80%!!

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