‘A drop in the ocean’: Bolton Mountain Rescue chief welcomes new grant but says Government must go further

An increased government grant to support mountain rescue teams is just a ‘drop in the ocean’ of what it actually costs to run a team, according the leader of Bolton Mountain Rescue.

The Department of Transport announced last week that grants totalling £250,000 would be provided to UK mountain rescue teams for the financial year 2015 to 2016.

Garry Rhodes, Team Leader at Bolton Mountain Rescue, says that each of the 48 mountain rescue teams in England and Wales currently receive just under £2500 from the government – and that the new grant increases that by £666 per team.

“I am grateful for the support and recognition the government is showing in England and Wales mountain rescue,” Mr Rhodes told MM.

“But our running costs far exceed the grant support that is being given.

“Average running costs for us are £30,000 excluding capital expenditure on replacing equipment and vehicles and clothing.

“It’s a drop in the ocean.”

The UK government have provided a grant to Mountain Rescue England and Wales in recent years after failing to prevent the body paying VAT on equipment – something the RNLI for example are exempt from.

However, in Scotland, Scottish mountain rescue teams have benefitted directly from a Scottish Home Office grant, linked largely to the impact the teams have on Scotland’s tourism industry.

“We said if the Scottish office can recognise the contribution Scottish mountain rescue makes why can’t we have the same thing from our national body within England and Wales,” Mr Rhodes said.

“So the result of this was the British government gave a grant which equalled about in the first year £2000 per mountain rescue team.

“Bear in mind what we were trying to get was parity with Scotland who were getting or had got in the region of £22,000 per team.

“I think England and Wales is a little bit richer than Scotland.”

Mr Rhodes says that the current support they receive of just under £2500 from the government helps buy some equipment, but that two or three years ago they had to buy three Land Rover ambulances costing £41,000 each.

Safety helmets for team members which have to be replaced every five or six years cost £90 each and Bolton’s team has 50 members while stretchers cost £2000 each and a specialist radio set up to £500.

“It doesn’t go very far really,” Mr Rhodes said.

“We’re grateful for any support the government can give and it needs acknowledging that these are tight financial times.

“The figure is a very small part of our overall income that we need to keep going.”

Almost totally the team relies on charitable grants and trusts which they apply for as well as bequests and public fundraising support.

The total bill for the Land Rovers for example came to £141,000 and not a penny of that money came from government support.

Bolton Mountain Rescue Team gets called out on average around 100 times per year.

Across the country, mountain rescue teams are involved in most search operations, for instance playing a huge role in the search for April Jones and disasters such as the Virgin train crash in Kendal.

“The financial support we get in reality is a very small amount of our overall money needed to keep the service going,” Mr Rhodes said.

“Now I’m not being critical of the government – locally in Bolton we’ve got tremendous support from all party MPs.

“There was an exhibition recently where space was given over in houses of parliament to mount a national exhibition on mountain rescue.

“It would also be nice for the government to actually continue its current campaign to get VAT relief on all our purchases.

“It would make a big difference.”

Picture courtesy of Terry Whalebone, with thanks.

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