by John Walton

BEAN counting Ministry of Defence civil servants have been accused by Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth of threatening the future of the Aldershot Show.

He says they are also robbing the Army Benevolent Fund of thousands of pounds by demanding a twenty fold increase in the rent for Rushmoor Arena.

Mr Howarth, who is Vice-President of the show, said that until five or six years ago only about £100 to £150 was charged by the MOD for the hire of the arena. Last year the figure was £750, but this time the initial demand was for £14,500!

Eventually this was knocked down to £4000, but this still meant that two thirds of the average £6000 profit would now be going to the MOD rather than the charity.

He said the field was easily waterlogged and there were practically no facilities. The MOD was also charging £200 for hanging a banner across the Farnborough Road bridge.

He said he was writing to Secretary of State Geoff Hoon to complain about the threat to the show, which is a direct descendant of earlier tattoos and shows.

"This is unacceptable," Mr Howarth declared. "The Ministry seems to have been taken over by pen-pushers and accountants who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. This Government is so strapped for cash that it is not content with flogging off 27 per cent of the Aldershot garrison but is now charging for absolutely everything."

The show this weekend (May 4, 5 and 6) comes after two cancellations due to bad weather and the foot and mouth crisis. The packed programme includes a band contest, crafts and stalls, a falconry display, an MOD guard dog display and horse jumping with top names taking part. The Kings Troop, Royal Horse Artillery is appearing and will be included in the closing pageant.There is also a circus, a gymnastics display and an exemption dog show.

An Army spokesman said on Wednesday: "Negotiations are underway to try to limit the costs."

But he pointed out that their pricing policy was governed by Ministry of Defence.