London

Festive light spend cut by up to 90% in parts of London

Council spending on Christmas lights and decorations in London has been cut this year by up to 90%.

The biggest cut - in Labour-controlled Islington - saw the total spend down from £138,000 last year to £11,700.

It was revealed by a survey and Freedom of Information requests by BBC London, which found an average reduction across all 32 London councils of 15.5%.

Islington Council says Christmas lights are still shining, as local businesses have picked up much of the bill.

Other big reductions are in Bromley, down £42,600, Camden, down £38,318 and Brent, down £38,286.

Overall, 15 London councils have reduced spending on lights.

Responding to the findings, a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: "There's no need for town halls to play Scrooge.

"It is in councils' financial interests to draw in shoppers to their town centres at Christmas given the benefits of packed car parks to councils' coffers.

"Shoppers want to see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, carol services and Nativity scenes and councils should not hesitate in supporting them."

Councillor Catherine West, leader of Islington Council, said: "This year we've been hit very hard by government cuts and we haven't been able to put on as many Christmas lights.

"However our local businesses have worked really hard despite that to put on displays and we're trying to do as much as we can within a very small budget.

'Feel good factor'

"We've spoken to local businesses and asked where would it hurt the least to take out the lights."

She added: "In the current climate we need to spend as much as we can on our Citizens' Advice Bureau for people who are in debt.

"There are a lot of people homeless at the minute - so we are directing resources towards those kind of priorities."

Matt Segal, who runs Frederick's restaurant in Camden Passage, Islington, which contributed £750, said: "It gives us the feel-good factor which is crucial for Christmas and really good after what's been quite a tough year.

"Children love it and grown ups love it - and we're in the business of making people happy."

The biggest spending council this year was Hackney, one of the UK's most deprived boroughs.

It shelled out a total of £165,000, the exact same sum as last year.

On the streets of Hackney there was a mixed reaction to the figure.

One resident said: "It's not a good way to spend money - this is Hackney, they have so many other problems.

"After the riots there was so much damage done and people in need.

"The money should go to those families and regenerating those communities, not Christmas lights which are bad for the environment."

But another resident said: "I'm a resident here and I enjoy it - so I think a bit of money is OK."

Hackney councillor Feryal Demirci said: "We decided not to cut our budget because we believe at a financial time like this it's really important to attract shoppers to our town centres and our markets.

"Hackney businesses are facing a fresh challenge this year with the opening of Westfield down the road in Stratford.

"So we felt it was really important to do our bit to attract shoppers - we don't have the likes of Selfridge's to subsidise us."

Glowing swans

The second highest spender was Labour-run Enfield Council in north London, which parted with £90,000 - an increase of almost £40,000 on last year's spend.

Councillor Del Goddard, cabinet member for regeneration, said: "We have indeed spent an extra £40,000.

"We have spent the money on a tree of light - we have three of those.

Image caption The Downing Street Christmas tree was illuminated on 1 December

"We have trees lit up and two swans. We've supplemented additional lighting."

He added: "We think it's money excellently spent - because we've increased footfall and that's going to increase business in shops."

Ali Osman, owner of Clover Insurance Services in Enfield, gave the sum a cautious welcome.

He said: "If the arrival of the lights increases footfall and the ambience of the area and puts money through the tills it would be a good thing.

"But obviously time will tell, when we look at figures for the next quarter.

"The ambience of the area is improved - but Christmas lights are a temporary thing."

The biggest rise was in Haringey, up by £41,740, to £66,740.

A Haringey council spokeswoman said: "We were happy to spend this money as part of our commitment to supporting our local traders in these difficult economic times.

"We were also keen to do everything possible to give traders in Tottenham a great Christmas after so many of them had such a difficult summer."

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