School rent row continues

PUBLISHED: 14:39 25 December 2009 | UPDATED: 00:43 16 June 2010

PARENTS of Brownies and Guides have written an open letter to Honiton Community Primary School – to complain about a 1,200 per cent increase in rent for use of the school s hall and to implore governors to have a change of heart.

PARENTS of Brownies and Guides have written an open letter to Honiton Community Primary School - to complain about a 1,200 per cent increase in rent for use of the school's hall and to implore governors to have a change of heart.

They are unhappy that a notice in the school newsletter contradicted what they believe to be the facts about the rent rise.

And they are calling on the school to recognise the youth groups as community organisations - so they benefit from a non-commercial rent.

In the school's December newsletter, it is claimed recent reports about the school in this newspaper were "not all factually accurate".

The Midweek Herald has received no complaint from the school.

A report about the rent increase states: "The lettings charge for Brownies and Guides has not been reviewed since 2006. For the past three years they have been paying £1.75 per hour for the hire of the school hall.

"In accordance with the county lettings policy, the governing body is not allowed to subsidise lettings and so, with the increase in fuel costs over the last few years, it was obliged to review the lettings charges.

"This review included consideration of the costs to light and heat the hall for a two hour period and research into the charges of similar establishments in the community.

"Much thought was given to the impact of an increase in charges for Brownies and Guides and so it was agreed to support the adjustment to the change by halving the payment for the first term.

"In real terms, this meant that Brownies would have to pay £8.25 per hour for the hire of the hall, with this increasing to £16.50 per hour in the summer term. This rate is in line with other similar local institutions."

The open letter responds: "We understand the letting fees had not been reviewed for three years and accept that the fees were low and fuel costs will have risen. No one would disagree that a fair rise is acceptable; however a 1,200 per cent rise is unacceptable, unjustifiable and unfair.

"The two Guide groups and two Brownie groups meet approximately 36 weeks a year. The heating is not even on in the evenings with the radiators merely giving off residual heat from the day. Lighting would be on for less than 40 per cent of the year. "Have fuel costs risen by so much? And why, if there is no heating, is this of much relevance? The new cost for the year is £1,200 per group, instead of the £100 currently paid by each group, making a total of £4,800 per year instead of the current £400.

"The guides and Brownies aren't asking to be subsidised, but are asking to merely pay a fair rent, not an over inflated one.

"Devon County Council's educational letting policy can be viewed on line. Part of the policy's rationale is: 'Access by the community should be encouraged'. When arriving at a price, it states it should be demonstrable and reasonable.

"Honiton Primary School has 'kindly' offered the hall at half rent for the next term to: 'support the adjustment to the change'. How generous.

"It does not alter the huge increase even a half rental charge would be, followed by an even larger increase the term after. In the school's newsletter, they attempt to justify this by saying: 'The new rate is in line with other similar local institutions.'

"What it fails to mention is that the county's letting policy suggests different classifications of rent from which the Governors of the school make their own choice. "For reasons we cannot understand, or see any justification for, the governors will not class Guiding as designated use, i.e. approved community user groups but as Private use alongside commercial users.

"Guiding is a fantastic provision and service to the community. It is non-profit making and entirely run by unpaid, dedicated volunteers. This is a sad time. Guiding has just celebrated 100 years. Honiton Guides have used the hall for 10 years in the same way that school halls are being used all across the country. If other similar local institutions also charge such a huge amount to non-profit making voluntary organisations for children, they should be ashamed.

"Our faith in human nature has taken a tumble and we are saddened that Honiton Primary School feels the need to be equally greedy.

"We implore Honiton Primary School to reconsider and classify the groups as the designated users that they reasonably should be.


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