Council u-turn on christmas lights

A COUNCIL leader has ordered a rethink on controversial proposals to cut grant aid for Christmas lights after a storm of nationwide criticism.Ever since the EADT first highlighted the plans last week, Waveney District Council has been inundated with enquiries from national television, radio and newspaper companies.

By David Lennard

A COUNCIL leader has ordered a rethink on controversial proposals to cut grant aid for Christmas lights after a storm of nationwide criticism.

Ever since the EADT first highlighted the plans last week, Waveney District Council has been inundated with enquiries from national television, radio and newspaper companies.

According to a report going before councillors the cuts were being introduced as Christmas was a Christian festival and did not fit in with its “core values of equality and diversity”.


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But now Council leader Mark Bee has decided to withdraw the report from the Executive agenda for November 10 and has asked officers to provide a report that recommends that the council award the full Christmas lights grant.

In a statement issued yesterday the council said: “The report was trying to make clear to members that the equality and diversity issue was the fact that this grant is not advertised, in line with the general grants process, and that therefore the process was closed to new applicants.

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“We would accept that the issue of it being a Christian festival was not relevant to the report, and should not have been included, as the issue was about fair access to council services, which includes the availability of grants.”

However, the leader of the cash-strapped council said that “hard economic facts” had to be faced in future when councillors had to decide how best to allocate grant aid in the district.

“We do not have a bottomless pit of money and the revenue we receive from central Government is cut back so that difficult decisions have to be made,” Mr Bee said.

“We have to decide how best to allocate what money we have available for grants and we believe that it is better for parishes themselves and the local business communities to fund the various Christmas light displays.

“It would be wrong to continue using council taxpayers money to help fund these displays as we cannot expect someone living in a small village to contribute to displays in towns such as Beccles or Southwold.”

Under proposals originally going before the council's Executive Committee on Thursday the grant aid to Christmas light appeals would have been cut by 50% for 2006 and phased out completely from 2007.

However, Mr Bee made it clear that he was upset at the way the report had been worded and discussed the issue with the council's chief executive Glen Garrod.

“I do not like to see the council embarrassed in this way and will be talking to the chief executive and other senior officers to see if we can find a way that will prevent reports being made public before myself and other portfolio holders have had a chance to look at them,” he said.

The chairman of the Christmas lights committee at Southwold, Sue Allen, who is in a unique position to look at the funding controversy as she is also chairman of Waveney District Council, backed Mr Bee's comments.

She said: “Obviously we are disappointed to lose any funding but we will work that bit harder to make sure we can continue to fund the kind of lighting displays that Southwold are renowned for.

“I believe there are more deserving causes for grant aid from the district council than Christmas lights which can be funded by other means.”

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