ESSEX County Council has blamed rising energy costs on a decision to cut the amount of money it spends on repairing street lights.

The authority has set up the Bank of Essex this year, which will see it lend £50million to small businesses. It is also launching its own PR agency with executives earning up to £42,000 a year.

But lights could be going out because it does not have enough cash to repair the county’s street lights.

Highways chiefs have prioritised street lights that have been damaged, for example where a car has smashed into a post, or where lots of lights have gone out in one area.

These repairs should be completed during 2009, but the remainder will be looked at towards the end of the financial year and work will only take place if there is money left.

Mile End councillor Martin Goss said lights at North Station Bridge in Colchester, are among those waiting to be fixed.

He said: “I’ve been going on about these lights for nearly a year because most of them are out of service.

“There are tramps living under the bridge and it’s dark for vulnerable people.”

Scott Wilson, County Hall’s highways spokesman, said the budget for non-routine repairs has decreased, due to rising energy costs, but the overall budget for street lighting has increased.

He said the lights at North Station Bridge have been inspected and “certain abnormal engineering issues” will be fixed as soon as possible.

In response to the issue of funding, Mr Wilson said: “Bank of Essex will provide Essex businesses with access to funding, keeping them viable and their employees in jobs.

“It will also benefit Essex taxpayers making a higher return on their money than it presently does sitting in the bank earning next to nothing.

“We make no apologies for actively supporting Essex businesses and the communities and families that depend upon them.”