Rother council leaders have withdrawn funding from the company behind Bexhill’s Christmas lights due to concerns around ‘a lack of transparency and engagement’.
On Monday (July 1), Rother District Council’s cabinet agreed to terminate a funding agreement with Shining Lights (Bexhill) Limited – a company set up to organise the town’s Christmas decorations.
Before making their decision, council leaders heard that company’s directors had ‘refused to engage’ with the authority after concerns were raised over its performance in 2018 and its financial sustainability.
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Ben Hook, the council’s head of acquisitions, transformation and regeneration, said: “The council has been attempting to meet with Shining Lights to ascertain the sustainability of the partnership going forwards and better understand their financial position.
“Shining Lights has refused to engage in this process and therefore it is recommended that cabinet approve the termination of this current arrangement.
The group had provided the lights each year since 2015, receiving £13,500 from the council each year since 2016 as part of a four-year funding agreement.
Concerns were raised after last year, however, as only a single Christmas tree and two Bexhill town centre streets were lit, council papers say.
According to council papers, the company had been asked to meet with the council to discuss these concerns, but had not done so.
The council papers add: “Continuation of the existing contract would be a risk to public funds due to the lack of transparency within and engagement by Shining Lights.”
Speaking to the Bexhill and Battle Observer last week, Shining Lights managing director Michael Matthews said the company would not be continuing to organise the Christmas lights as the money from the council did not cover the company’s costs.
Mr Matthews told the paper the lights and annual switch on event had cost £27,000 to run each year, once road closures and stage management were included in the price.
He also said ‘health and safety reasons’ had played a part.
In light of officers’ recommendations, cabinet members agreed to terminate the council’s funding agreement with Shining Lights.
They also authorised officers to enter into a new funding agreement with the Bexhill Chamber of Commerce to provide Christmas lights this year, with the agreement to be overseen by cabinet member for Bexhill Affairs Christine Bayliss.
Cabinet members heard the chamber would not be willing to enter into any match-funding obligation, but would look to encourage participation from other stakeholders in the town.
Council papers say officers would expect the lighting display to be accompanied by a switch-on event, although for the avoidance of doubt, the funding would be tied only to the provision of lighting.
The chamber had proposed to provide lights and fittings on a rental basis, rather than buying or owning any lights, council papers say.
After declaring an interest as a member of the chamber, Cllr Bayliss requested cabinet member for tourism and public realm Cllr Deirdre Earl Williams also be involved in overseeing the funding agreement.