Bill for Christmas lights burns £2m hole in councils' pockets

Councils in Yorkshire have spent £2m on Christmas lights and celebrations this year, with one authority alone spending nearly £600,000.

The biggest festive fund was the 580,000 spent by Leeds City Council, more than a quarter of the total payout for all 22 town halls in the region and more than that of Sheffield, Bradford and Hull combined.

At the other end of the scale, councils such as Craven, Selby and Ryedale spent fewer than 1,000 while Hambleton and Richmond spent nothing because decorations were paid for by the market towns. York, the fifth biggest city in Yorkshire, spent just 31,000 on festive events and decorations. Wakefield spent seven times more, and their 280,000 Christmas fund was the second highest in the region.

Wakefield Council defended its spending, which included paying for live entertainment at a switch-on event including two choirs, the Wakefield Wildcats cheerleaders, a dance Troupe and a snow machine, and said they had cut costs by 60,000.

Judith Badger, director of finance, said: "Wakefield district not only has a city centre, but has many towns and villages who are proud of their Christmas celebrations.

"We have reduced our spend by around 60,000 this year but have still provided lights and decorations to more than 60 locations in our city centre, town centres and villages.

"This accounts for a higher spend compared with other authorities because of the number of areas we support.

"Thousands of people attend our annual switch on events across the district.

"When many of our small businesses are struggling, the Christmas lights and decorations attract shoppers from across the district and beyond.

"This is vital support for the local economy and we are pleased to have received many positive comments from local shopkeepers who have appreciated the extra support the Council is offering."

Despite the prudent spending in York, the city has claimed to be UK's "Christmas capital" with events like a parade of Christmas angels. Paul Barrett, the council's city centre manager said: "City of York Council is extremely successful with its partnership working to make York Britain's most Christmassy city.

"We consult with members of York's Retailers' Forum on how and where our annual 30,000 is best spent.

"This year we have delivered exceptional value for money. Having bought brackets and lights over the last few years, we have hundreds of new pea-lights, 250 four-foot real trees and 32 large trees illuminating our beautiful city. Two extra pedestrianised streets have been added to the usual seven decorated by the council.

"Our partner working also means that we host five different markets to give shoppers extra choice and value in the run up to Christmas; the Mansion House opens its decorated doors to the public for tours and traditional celebrations and buildings including Medieval Barley Hall deck their halls to herald the festive season."

In Leeds the city splashed out on pop acts McFly and Shayne Ward for their grand Christmas lights switch on. The event attracted around 20,000 people.

A spokesman for Leeds City Council said: "These costs are not just for the city centre.

"Leeds is the second largest city council in the country and we also provide lights for dozens of town and district centres around the borough.

"Although parish and town councils contribute to the cost of putting them up, there are still costs for us in man hours, transport and raw materials.

"At this festive time of year there is not only an expectation from residents that we put up displays of Christmas lights, but they help make shopping areas attractive and pleasant – bringing untold millions of pounds of business into the city."