Exclusive: Cash-strapped councils turn to sponsors to ensure Yorkshire is lit up for Christmas

Christmas lights in Leeds. Picture: Tony JohnsonChristmas lights in Leeds. Picture: Tony Johnson
Christmas lights in Leeds. Picture: Tony Johnson
TOWN HALL bosses across Yorkshire have proved they are no Scrooge when it comes to Christmas by continuing to up their spending on festive lights, with almost £1.7m spent on decorations and switch-on events this year.

The figure represents a slight rise in spending on last year and 2015, with authorities turning increasingly to lucrative sponsorship deals to ensure festive celebrations are not impacted by budget cuts.

Figures released to The Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act showed £1.69m was spent on decorations by local authorities in the region this year, up from £1.66m in 2016 and £1.59m in 2015.

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This year, councils including Leeds, Wakefield, York, Hull and Barnsley all benefited from external sponsorship for festive displays and light switch-ons, with more than £340,000 contributed from external sources.

Barnsley Council increased spending on lights and decorations from £27,000 two years ago to £36,098 this year, which included the cost of new electricity supplies and timing clocks for lampposts affected by the redevelopment of the town centre, maintenance work on older lights, and increased security to “reflect the current national threat level”.

It spent £15,000 on its switch-on event in November, which featured characters from the children’s television show Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom - but almost half that figure, £7,000 , came from sponsorship.

A Barnsley Council spokesperson said support from the private sector was “increasingly important for councils in a time of austerity”.

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“This enables us to do extra things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford, such as the Barnsley Town Centre Races, Mayors Parade, Flavours Food Festival and Barnsley By The Sea,” he said.

“For the lights switch on it enables us to have a bigger and better programme of entertainment on the night.”

Bradford Council was able to save the £52,000 it spent on a light switch-on event in 2016 as the Broadway shopping centre hosted an event this November. Bradford’s budget for lights and decorations has remained the same at £151,000 since 2005.

Spending on lights in Hull increased 50 per cent, from £43,488 in 2016 to £65,508 - £1,000 of which came from sponsors. The increased figure included a new lighting scheme and a specially commissioned star-themed installation in Queen Victoria Square, as part of the UK City of Culture celebrations.

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The lights were switched on by the Lord Mayor and six-year-old cancer sufferer Danier Carter, from Bransholme, “unlike other cities in the country where they paid around £5,000 and £15,000 for celebrities to switch on the lights”, a spokeswoman said.

Arts and Events Manager at Hull City Council, Paul Holloway, added: “Whilst we completed our biggest regeneration programme in over 70 years and ahead of our special year in the spotlight, 2016 saw a much reduced programme of Christmas lighting.

“We are delighted with the new lighting scheme, delivered within our original budget whilst improving the overall lighting scheme, as part of our on-going ambition for a thriving city centre.”

Elsewhere in the region, Rotherham spent £44,300 on decorations this year, and £4,300 on a switch-on event, with Rother FM paying for the entertainment, and said it was “exploring” sponsorship and partnerships for future years.

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Wakefield Council spent £182,828 on lights and decorations, a slight decrease from the £184,925 spent in 2016, but was given £20,000 Towards new LED lights for Castleford by local company Really Useful Products. Last year, Haribo invested £40,000 in new lights in Pontefract, where it is based.

Corporate Director for Regeneration and Economic Growth at Wakefield Council, Andy Wallhead, said: “We’re very pleased to have forged partnerships with local businesses in Castleford and Pontefract in the last two years and they have helped to support new Christmas lights in both towns.

“The new decorations have received great feedback from residents, visitors and business people. This approach has worked well and next year and we hope to work with a partner to support new lights in Wakefield city centre.”

The highest spend on lights and decorations was in Yorkshire’s biggest city, Leeds, which spent £573,441, a six per cent reduction from 2016, when it spent £609,076. The light switch-on, with Leeds Rhinos stars Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow flicking the switch, cost £76,134.

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Internal and external income brought in £261,502, making the total Council spend to £411,837 - a reduction from £427,686 in 2016 and in £446,934 in 2015.

A Leeds Council spokesperson said: “With continued pressures on council budgets, we are always looking at ways to reduce our overall costs, whilst ensuring that we can provide to residents and visitors to Leeds, Christmas lights that are both attractive and pleasant.

“A key way in which we are achieving these aims is by attracting a significant amount of both internal and external income. This includes providing external light displays in areas outside Leeds. Since 2007/2008 this type of contribution to the overall cost of our Christmas Lights expenditure has risen from £82,000 to a figure over £200,000, which is extremely positive.”