The bright lights of fireworks displays and Christmas lights switch-ons will lose their sparkle in many areas this year, with councils up and down the country scaling back or calling off events due to the cost of living crisis.
A body representing town and parish councils said many were having to “think creatively” to be able to afford such events, for example by reducing the time that festive lights are on for.
Leeds, Hackney, Glasgow and Cardiff are among the cities cancelling Bonfire Night fireworks displays this year, while Guildford, Ely and Budleigh Salterton in Devon are some of the places foregoing Christmas lights events.
The Local Government Association, which represents local authorities, said town halls were facing billions in added costs this year.
Councils ‘will do what they can’
Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, who chairs its culture, tourism and sport board, said: “Councils know how important it is for communities to have opportunities to come together and share experiences, meet friends and family and have fun together, and will do what they can to ensure they continue.
“However, councils are facing at least £2.4 billion in extra cost pressures this year as a result of inflation, energy costs and projected increases to the National Living Wage.”
He said the government’s decision not to revisit the funding for councils means they were now having to try and find ways to meet these costs this year.
He said: “This includes considering whether certain events should go ahead or not.
“Councils’ circumstances will differ, therefore it will be up to the individual council to decide what events should go ahead and to what extent.”
Energy bills ‘four times the amount’ of previous years
The National Association of Local Councils (NALC), which represents town and parish councils, said some were having to “think creatively” to save money.
A spokesperson said: “Local parish and town councils play an essential part in Bonfire Night and Christmas activities, such as lighting the high streets, putting up Christmas trees, voucher schemes for older residents, lunches for the community, and food markets.
“Most councils are continuing, at this point, with their existing plans. However, some will review their plans given the significant increase in their energy bills; in some cases, four times the amount of previous years.
“They’ve had to think creatively to deliver for their communities by, for example, reducing the time the Christmas lights are switched on.”
Where have Bonfire Night events been cancelled?
Leeds City Council has cancelled all six of its annual Bonfire Night fireworks displays, saying the events would cost more than £200,000 at a time when it was facing higher energy costs and having to support more residents through the cost of living crisis.
Hackney Council has cancelled its regular Bonfire Night fireworks display. The authority said it could not pay for the spectacular because its finances were “under pressure”, but also cited concerns about air pollution.
Glasgow’s display has also been called off for the third year running, a decision announced by the City Council’s arms-length organisation Glasgow Life.
And Cardiff’s Sparks in the Park event has been called off both for this year and for the foreseeable future. Organisers Cardiff Round Table and Sparks Cardiff Charitable Trust said they had been facing escalating costs.
Other towns and cities are putting on scaled-back events, such as in Harrogate, where a fireworks display organised by the Harrogate RoundTable will go ahead but without its usual bonfire. Organisers mentioned safety and environmental concerns, saying they hoped the money saved ewould allow them to make a bigger donation to charity.
Where have Christmas lights switch-ons been cancelled?
Guildford Borough Council decided in August to cancel its lights switch-on event, with councillors saying they could not "afford or justify" the money to host it safely. Lights will still be lit throughout the Surrey town.
The lights switch-on at Ely in Cambridgeshire was scrapped back in February over cost concerns, although it will still have Christmas lights on display through the festive season.
And the Devon town of Budleigh Salterton is also not having a Christmas lights event, with its Chamber of Commerce citing escalating costs.
Meanwhile, Leeds has scrapped its popular German Christmas market, with Leeds City Council citing “foreign travel work visa costs and complications”.
What has the government said about funding for councils?
A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Councils, rather than central government, are in charge of managing their own budgets.
“We have made available £54.1 billion this year for councils across England, an additional £3.7 billion compared to last year.”