‘Scrooge’ businesses accused over lights

Coun Alan Skidmore says the Chamber of Trade has 'simply not bothered'.

Coun Alan Skidmore says the Chamber of Trade has 'simply not bothered'.

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A row has broken out after Ripon politicians accused local businesses of failing to support the city’s Christmas Lights Fund.

An appeal was launched to raise £3,600 to improve decorations around the city but Ripon Chamber of Trade’s contribution of £525 – less than 15 per cent of the total required – has come under fire.

Speaking at a meeting of the city council’s Finance and General Purposes committee, Coun Alan Skidmore (Con) said: “It appeared to me that the Ripon Chamber of Trade are quite content to let the precept payers put the money in year on year.

“They have simply not bothered and yet they actually gain. Harrogate raised nearly £23,000 from businesses for their lights this year.”

But Ripon Chamber of Trade has hit back at the claims, with its chairman David Elsy arguing many city businesses are not based in the centre and so the lights were “not a great benefit” to them.

“We have probably not got many chamber members who are in the centre of the city, a lot of members are non-retailers so are situated elsewhere,” he said.

“We have tried to approach some of what you might call the national stores but most of them are banks and building societies who are sitting in the middle of the square.

“This is a big problem in Ripon because there are not many independent retailers right bang in the centre of the city.”

Mr Elsy also said City Development Manager Alan Weston should be doing more to make contact with national retailers, banks and building societies.

He said: “We believe the job of the City Development Manager is to go out there and interface with them.

“We have been disappointed about the level of contact he has had with businesses and he needs to get out and do some face-to-face talking with them.”

Coun Skidmore continued: “Even the nationals in Harrogate are putting their hand in their pocket and if you go to Masham and Boroughbridge, they have better light displays than we have.”

The £3,600 fundraising drive – set up by Mr Weston – only reached its target after an anonymous £3,100 donation, with a further £500 for the Christmas lights switch-on coming from Costa Coffee.

Speaking after the meeting, the Mayor of Ripon, Coun Mick Stanley, said: “It’s been a very disappointing response from the businesses over a long period of time.

“We have always had the problem of having very little funding from the retailers.”

Defending the improvements to Ripon’s city centre lights, Mr Weston said: “It’s disappointing that we did not see a larger number of contributors this year.

“These are areas where nationals are not present and there are independents there. It’s important we work as a whole for the city.

“It’s not a case of us not trying, it’s a case of trying to work with everyone to contribute.”