A DECISION to spend almost £500,000 of business grants on paying off Swindon Council’s debt for the Radio One Big Weekend has been labelled “atrocious”.

Emma Faramarzi, chair of the Swindon Federation of Small Businesses, said the council should have used the grants to support businesses.

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove has also criticised the move and said services such as Swindon’s park and ride system could have been saved.

But Swindon Council’s leader said May’s festival brought £2m into the local economy.

At a meeting of Swindon Council’s cabinet last week councillors agreed to commit £498,000 from Local Authority Business Growth Incentives (LABGI) to pay off the remaining debt.

Mrs Faramarzi said: “The decision to use these grants, which are there to help Swindon businesses is atrocious.

“This money should be spent on giving a helping hand to business.”

But Swindon Council leader Coun Rod Bluh defended the move.

He said: “We made this decision because we felt the benefit to the town was significant.

“It was estimated that the Big Weekend brought £2m into the local economy. It gave us the kind of national publicity that you just can’t buy and it put us in a good position to host further music festivals in the future. On top of that it was a great weekend for Swindon’s young people.”

South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove said she was concerned few local businesses benefited from the event.

She has called on the council to quantify the benefits to the town, and added: “The Government grants are meant to be used by councils to save services that have been affected by the recession or to support initiatives that attract new businesses.

“In May I called for the council to use this money to keep branch libraries open and to save the Groundwell Park and Ride site, which is key to the economy of our town. The council refused to use the money for schemes that are fully supported by local people. For them to use this funding and next year’s funding to pay off a bill is astonishing.”

Coun Bluh said rhetorically: “Does Anne think that it would be a better use of these resources to pay for a park and ride that serviced 200 cars a day rather than an event that brought £2m to the town?”