When three high-street chains made national headlines for refusing to contribute towards a festive appeal to help pay for the Christmas lights in a small Dorset town, it was clear to anyone in public relations that not only was their Christmas spirit lacking but also their PR sensibilities.

According to reports, the local branches of WHSmith, Costa Coffee and Lloyds TSB in the pretty seaside resort of Lyme Regis refused to pay their share towards the cost of laying on this year’s Christmas decorations in the town, scoring a spectacular PR own goal in the process.

Every December, the local council brings a bit of winter cheer to the town by holding an annual festive parade and brightening up the high street with Christmas decorations.

Although the council foots the lion’s share of the bill for the festivities, it also calls upon local businesses to help out with the cost of keeping the lights on during the Christmas period.

But this year, while every independent retailer and small local businesses chipped in with a modest contribution of £25 each, the three tight-fisted high-street giants point-blank refused saying only that they didn’t have the money.

Their Scrooge-like behaviour wasn’t lost on the local councillors and residents, who were left astounded by their lame excuses and extraordinarily mean Christmas spirit.

And now the resulting dispute has escalated from a small local wrangle into a nationwide media story, with all three chains counting the cost of negative coverage in the national newspapers.

Strictly speaking, you’d have to say that Costa Coffee, Lloyds TSB and WHSmith are well within their rights to decline the invitation to contribute to the lights appeal, as the scheme is entirely voluntary.

However, if you have any public relations sensibilities whatsoever, then surely you would bite the bullet and cough up towards the fund in the interests of maintaining a positive and healthy PR profile.

And if you make pleas of poverty when you’re amongst the biggest names on the high street, while other much smaller businesses have done their bit, then clearly there’s only ever likely to be one conclusion.