Dunstable’s carol service was in the spotlight as the town council heard 50% less children are taking part compared to five years ago.
The meeting of the community services committee at Grove House also received confirmation that only nine schools took part last month compared to 14 in the 2014 event.
And despite the council’s own agenda for the meeting presenting these statistics and questioning whether the event should be reformatted, the Gazette came under fire for reporting the figures in our December 30 issue.
Chairman of the committee, Cllr Pat Staples, said: “I have to say I was very disappointed with the comments in the Dunstable Gazette.
“I’ve had two complaints and another lady told me it was appalling. I’m really disappointed to see the response in the paper this week.”
Mayor of Dunstable, Cllr Liz Jones, said: “The number of schools was reduced.
“My own thoughts on it are – do we have just school choirs participating or is there potential to open it up to other choirs in this town?”
Cllr John Chatterley said: “I think a lot of people will read that [the Gazette article] and possibly next year there will be a lack of interest. We have to work on it. I do think the schools take part.”
Questions were asked about the media’s access to the council agenda, which was published on the council’s website more than a week before the meeting but town clerk David Ashlee explained: “We are a very transparent council.”
Mr Ashlee informed members that it was “in the spirit of transparency” that council documents are made public.
Cllr Patricia Russell said: “I think it might be an idea to send out a letter to each school asking what they thought of it.
“I do suggest we advertise it. I agree that other choirs should be asked so long as they are relevant.”
Cllr Peter Hollick also offered solutions to help advertise the event.
The council’s agenda stated: “Declining numbers indicate a lack of interest from the schools and the community.”
Nevertheless, Mr Ashlee reassured the council there was “nothing wrong” with the switch on and it must have been a “slim news day” for the Gazette.
Cllr Chatterley added: “They have deemed it fit to pick the one negative thing. This is just armchair journalism.”
Councillors mentioned the many positive aspects of the day, with the event’s Santa staying an additional hour to talk to children, and Cllr Russell said it was the only outdoor public carol service in the area.