Somerset Council has been accused of 'Scrooge-like' behaviour after they decided to end free-of-charge Christmas car parking.
Traditionally, on the four Saturdays in the run up to Christmas, drivers have been able to park up in council-run car parks without paying. But this year shoppers will have to pay for the privilege.
The charges, which increased by 10 per cent this year, will now apply to almost all council car parks across the county, a move Somerset Council estimates will save them £50,000.
However, car parking in Wellington looks poised to remain free, after Wellington Town Council agreed to foot the bill in the town's three car parks.
The intervention will cost the town council around £1,000 for each day the fees are waived, meaning it will cost approximately £4,000 in all.
It came at a meeting of town council's finance committee on Monday, where town clerk Dave Farrow explained Somerset Council had abandoned their free Christmas car parking policy amid a worsening financial position.
At the meeting councillors agreed to pick up the tab, and accused Somerset Council of 'Scrooge-like' behaviour. Cllr Janet Lloyd said:
"We need to do this to support our local businesses and encourage people to come into the town centre to shop. Somerset Council may have a bah humbug attitude this festive season, but we town councillors can spread some Christmas cheer."
Wellington's mayor, Cllr Marcus Barr added: "I can understand why Somerset Council have taken the decision that they have because of their financial situation. But it is a comparatively small amount of money against their hundred-million pound budget shortfall."
Confirming the scrapping of the free Christmas parking, a spokesperson for Somerset Council blamed the ongoing 'financial emergency.' They said: "Whilst we would like to be able to offer free parking over the pre-Christmas period, given the current financial climate we are not able to do so this year - we anticipate this would cost about £50,000.
"Our Executive recently declared a financial emergency in response to soaring costs and demands for services. This means we are reviewing all spending, including free Christmas parking to ensure we can continue to protect our core services and look after people in need."
It comes after Somerset Council warned they may have to declare bankruptcy. In an open letter to Somerset residents, council leader Bill Revans said: "If we are unable to propose a balanced budget for the next year, we would have to declare a Section 114 notice.
"That is effectively bankruptcy for a Council. This would mean that unelected, highly paid commissioners would come in to stabilise the council’s finances, selling off whatever they could, cutting all services except for those we legally have to provide, and raising your council tax.
"And Somerset Council tax payers would have no choice but to pay them. We are determined that these decisions should instead be made by locally elected Councillors who know and love Somerset."