YOUTH groups involving more than 1,000 children could be forced to shut following council cutbacks.

Many groups, such as Scouts and Girl Guides, currently hold their meetings in school halls and receive a subsidy from Bury Council to help cover the cost of using the buildings.

But the council's funding problems have resulted in the money being withdrawn as of April 1 though the rent increases will not start until the current lettings contracts end.

Without the subsidy, each unit will have to pay more than four times the amount of rent to use the same rooms.

The money could be raised by increasing subscription charges for the children, but group leaders believe this would be unpopular among parents.

They would be forced to move out of the schools, but do not know where they could move to, because venues like church halls are already used by other groups.

Clare Jayasekera, Ramsbottom District Commissioner for Guiding and spokesperson for Guides in Bury, says there are around 1,500 girls in Bury who are Rainbows, Brownies or Guides, and 500 of them are members of the 15 units who meet in schools.

She said: "The removal of this subsidy will have a huge impact on Guiding in the borough, and more than three-quarters of the units affected may have to close. We currently pay around £150 per term for each school, and this could increase to as much as £700.

"Our movement is supposed to be open to everyone, but people from low income families will not be able to pay for this. We would expect the rent to increase, but in line with inflation.

"The council have said we can apply for a grant to cover the gap, but the fund they've told us about doesn't have the £68,000 extra we will need for the next three years."

As well as the Guides, around 500 Scouts will also be affected by the change.

Colin Buckley is chairman of the executive committee for First Ramsbottom St Andrew's Scout Group, which meets at St Andrew's CE Primary School, in Nuttall Lane, Ramsbottom. He said: "If the council press ahead with the rent increases, we would have to significantly raise the amount of subs we charge the boys from £18 each per term to around £56 each."

A spokesman for Bury Council said: "In 2005/06 the average unsubsidised annual amount for using school buildings by groups such as Guides and Scouts was £848. As schools are not immune from large increases imposed by energy companies, the council has been forced to increase this unsubsidised amount by £25 per year. Over the years the education department has picked up the difference of several hundreds of pounds for each of these groups so that the average payment is only £237 per year.

"At the beginning of April the council introduced new arrangements to facilitate grant funding to alleviate financial pressures on the education department whilst continuing to support the groups.

"The council is keen to convey that it has no intention to close any groups such as the Guides and Scouts, nor is there any intention to levy high charges."