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THE leader of the Liberal Democrats has called councillors into question over paying for a £20,000 storage unit for Sandhurst Girl Guides, which was originally estimated at around £16,000.

During a 15-minute public question time at a Sandhurst Town Council meeting last Thursday, Ray Earwicker asked why the Guides over all the groups in the community should be allocated such a large sum of money and how the council could justify their decision.

Mr Earwicker, who says he has nothing against the guides personally, also put forward the question "why can't the guides provide some of the funds themselves?"

Cllr Dale Birch responded aggressively by warning Mr Earwicker to "back off".

He said: "I think it is quite an unseemly attack on the girl guides. Are you expecting us to provide a skate park and ask the kids who will use it to make a contribution?

"There is a definite need for a guide hut and I believe the public are completely behind us on this decision."

Cllr Birch explained that the money allocated had increased by a third so that other groups including the scouts can also make use of the facility.

Mr Earwicker also published his opinion in his party's leaflet — Focus — prompting Guide Association member Marie Wilson to write an angry response to the Times.

She writes: "The town council have helpfully come up with a small, attractive storage unit which will be ideal, even if it is not the hut we have dreamt of for so long.

"I don't know what Mr Earwicker has against young people, and guides in particular, but I am extremely concerned that he is using the Guide Association as a political means to get at members of the town council."

Mr Earwicker responded to Mrs Wilson's comments in a letter dated February 18.

He writes: "Far from being anti-Guide or against young people, we are concerned to ensure that the town council treats all applications for support equally or fairly.

"In this case it was clear that the Guide group in question was receiving a disproportionate level of assistance for a project which would not even benefit other Guide groups and similar organisations in the community."

After the meeting he added: "I am also concerned that Cllr Jean Bettison failed to declare a non-pecuniary interest at a council meeting on September 26, which was noted by a member of the public and should therefore make the vote invalid."

However, her husband, Cllr Paul Bettison, said: "She did announce a non-pecuniary interest at that meeting, she was even wearing her guide uniform at the time, but unfortunately it did not get recorded. If Mr Earwicker had been at the meeting he would know this.

"We have put substantial amounts of money towards the boys and girls football club, more than we are proposing to put into the guide unit. So if anyone is well connected it is them.

"The guide storage unit will serve about 300 guides in both Sandhurst and College town districts and they will be decking out the inside using funds they raised themselves.

"They had hoped for a guide hut where they could play games and hold meetings but that wasn't financially viable so they have had to take second best which is the storage unit.

"The unit will be invaluable because the guides work on a district basis so they have tents and equipment scattered in different member's garages.

"It is important that they keep all their stuff in one place."


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