Council rejects call for more cash on Swaffham Christmas lights

Scenes from the 2016 Swaffham Christmas Lights Switch on - Sister Francis switches on the lights with Town Crier Nigel Wilkin. ANL-161126-122933009

Scenes from the 2016 Swaffham Christmas Lights Switch on - Sister Francis switches on the lights with Town Crier Nigel Wilkin. ANL-161126-122933009

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Councillors have rejected calls for them to double their investment in Swaffham’s Christmas lights.

Business leaders say the extra money would build on the success of the recent display and help them to expand the celebrations later this year.

But the town council voted nine to one to maintain its current £6,000 annual investment during Wednesday evening’s meeting.

Town clerk Richard Bishop told members they would have to find savings elsewhere in the council’s budget if they wanted to provide the extra funding.

And Anne Thorp said: “I don’t see how this council can afford to spend this money now.”

The plea for extra money was made by the Swaffham Trade Association, which took over the organisation of the display, in conjunction with the town council, last summer.

As part of the arrangement, the council agreed to provide £6,000 a year for three years towards the lights, around seven times its previous annual contribution of £850.

The meeting was told the new display had been well received by residents and visitors.

Mr Bishop said he had not had any negative feedback.

And deputy mayor Jill Skinner described the switch-on event in late November as “a really amazing evening.”

But Sheila Lister suggested the true scale of the council’s contribution was far more than had been budgeted for.

She claimed the true figure was nearer £10,000 when equipment and staff time were taken into account.

She said: “The lights are lovely, but we can’t afford to spend that kind of money.”

However Robert Bartrum insisted more needed to be done to enhance the display, particularly against competition from other towns who he claimed were spending far more than Swaffham.

He said: “We can get more done for next year and that’s what it’s about.

“We are getting more houses built, more people coming into the town and they need to be kept in the town.”

Mr Bishop said the association would need to provide more information to justify its calls for extra money from the council.

He suggested their case would be strengthened by further fundraising efforts over the next two years.

The meeting heard the association had argued extra council funding would allow them to stage other events in the town throughout the year.

But Les Scott said he would prefer the council to contribute to those events as they are brought forward.

Members are due to receive draft proposals for the town council’s budget for the coming financial year today.

The details will be finalised at a finance meeting on January 23.