Christmas lights funding set for axe

A COUNCIL is set to plug the pull on festive lights funding because Christmas does not fit with its core values of “equality and diversity”.Waveney District Council said it recognised the axe could see the authority accused “of not supporting the spirit of Christmas”.

By Sarah Chambers

A COUNCIL is set to plug the pull on festive lights funding because Christmas does not fit with its core values of “equality and diversity”.

Waveney District Council said it recognised the axe could see the authority accused “of not supporting the spirit of Christmas”.

But because only previous applicants are allowed to bid for festive lighting and Christmas only focuses on the Christian faith, it was decided paying for lights “does not fit well with the council's core values of equality and diversity”.

Towns with Christmas lights displays last night expressed disappointment at the proposal, and feared it would have an adverse impact on them.

A council report, set to go before the authority's executive on Thursday , raises a concern that if the council continues to make grants of a total of £10,000 to festive light displays in the district's towns, there will be an increase in applications from other organisations which would need to be considered in line with its diversity and equality policy.

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However, it does recommend that continued support for the Lowestoft illuminations should be considered through a ring-fenced budget as the town had no precept available.

It advises that the Christmas lights budget should be halved next year, and phased out completely after that.

This year, 13 organisations have benefited from the grants, including Beccles Town Council, Halesworth Town Council, Southwold Lights Committee, Wangford with Henham Parish Council, Westhall Parish Council, Wrentham Parish Council , Ashby, Herringfleet and Somerleyton Parish Council, Bungay Wish Upon A Star and Kessingland Parish Council.

The report says there are “very good reasons” for not continuing the service, but warns: “Members should be aware that the decisions made about this service have the potential to be perceived by the public in a very negative way.

“It may be accused of not supporting the spirit of Christmas if the recommendations are supported.”

Sandra Leverett, chairman of the Halesworth Festive Lights Committee, which received £630 worth of district council support for this year's display, feared such a decision would have an adverse effect on the town.

It had taken “18 months of hard work” to raise the funds needed for new lights for the town, she pointed out.

She added: “I just feel it's going to put more responsibility onto volunteers, that instead of now fundraising for the lights we are going to have to fundraise to maintain them as well.”

“It does concern me. I really do feel that Halesworth loses out a lot. We are at the rump end of Waveney and I often feel we are the forgotten town. I think people will see it in a negative light.”

Sue Allen, chairman of the Southwold Lights Committee said they might have to cut back on the display next year, although it was still early days.

“It's disappointing, but I suppose that's the way life goes,” she said.

The committee had to raise about £16,000 to £20,000 for the lights, and this mainly came from fundraising events throughout the year, she said. This year, Waveney gave £420 towards the display.

“It's not a very sizeable chunk, but it is useful,” she said. “It means we have got to fill that gap, which means another event or something like that.”

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