Cost of living forcing councils to dim or axe Christmas lights and cancel festive markets

Oxford Street's Christmas lights will be on between 3pm and 11pm as councils seek to save money.
Regent Street's Christmas lights will be turned off at 11pm every night. Credit: PA

Some towns across the UK will have a little less festive cheer this year as councils cut back on Christmas light displays amid sky-high energy costs and soaring inflation.

Several local authorities have made the tough decision to pull festive displays or cancel switch-on events as they struggle to find funding.

Christmas festivities in many towns and cities across the UK were paused for two years due to the Covid pandemic, and many were looking forward to them returning this year.

But the energy crisis has put a damper on festive cheer and has forced some councils to dim the lights as they scramble to cut back on non-essential spending amid the current financial climate.

Shoppers at the Christmas Market on Edinburgh's Princes Street last year. Credit: PA

Others are taking steps to reduce costs by scaling back festive events. It comes after several cities were forced to cancel Bonfire Night celebrations in a bid to cut costs due to rising inflation and the cost of living crisis.

In the Surrey market town of Guildford, the lights will be on, but there will be no switch-on event this year due to budget constraints.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Joss Bigmore, said the council "faces significant financial challenges" and they "cannot afford or justify value for money for such an additional significant cost".

The lights switch-on attracted more than 7,000 people and required external event and crowd management service to ensure the safety of the crowds, adding considerably to the cost.

Ely in Cambridgeshire is following suit, toning down its switch-on event, which had run for the past 20 years, with all its associated costs.

Anna Bennett from Visit Ely said budget was a significant reason behind the City of Ely Council's decision to scale the event back, opting for a more low-key community event from 27 November instead.

Lack of sponsorship was also a factor, Ms Bennett says.

Many festive events rely on local businesses picking up some of the costs, but with many struggling in the current climate, their resources to do so have been severely constrained.

Manchester's Christmas light switch-on has also been axed, but the council insisted this was down to not being able to find a suitable venue.

The switch-on usually takes place outside the Town Hall on Albert Square, which is currently closed for construction works.

Many Christmas markets have been cancelled for the past two years due to the Covid pandemic. Credit: PA

Manchester council recently blamed escalating costs for scrapping Bonfire Night events across the city.Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Culture, Tourism and Sport Board, said each councils’ circumstances will differ, adding that it was "up to the individual council to decide what events should go ahead and to what extent".

“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," he said.

“However, councils are facing at least £2.4 billion in extra costs cost pressures this year as a result of inflation, energy costs and projected increases to the National Living Wage.

"The government’s decision not to revisit funding settlements agreed in the Spending Review means councils are now having to try and find ways to meet these costs this year and limit the impact to the local services that so many people rely upon.

"This includes considering whether certain events should go ahead or not."

Other councils are finding solutions that save the planet as well as save money on their energy bills.

The hours the Regent Street and Oxford Street's famous illuminations light up the West End of London will be reduced to limit the impact on Westminster Council's purse and the carbon footprint.

Crowds gathered in Truro for the annual City of Lights event. Credit: ITV News

The lights will be going on from 3pm to 11pm on timers, whereas in previous years they were on 24/7, New West End Comp, the company responsible for organising the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street said.

This will save two thirds energy in comparison to previous years, the firm said.

But some councils are scrapping events entirely.

The popular City of Lights Lantern Parade in Truro has been cancelled this year due to a lack of money, despite several sponsors stepping up.The festive event has not taken place since the coronavirus pandemic and it was hoped it would go ahead this year, but the council said it had "struggled with funding in recent years".

Leeds was forced to cancel its annual Christmas market due to “significant budget pressures”.The event is normally held from early November to just before Christmas in the city's Millennium Square and is co-organised with German partners from Frankfurt city council.

Leeds Christmas market has been cancelled this year. Credit: PA

In a statement, Leeds council said: “Following the pandemic and combined with foreign travel work visa costs and complications, it was mutually agreed with our friends in Frankfurt that it was no longer feasible to bring the German market back to Leeds.”

Glasgow's Christmas market has met the same fate. The annual event, usually held across George Square and St Enoch Square, has been axed after the event's organiser Market Place Europe pulled out from the event.Southampton annual German Christmas Market will also no longer go ahead this year after organiser WELA Märkte announced it had pulled out.

But many places are pressing ahead with Christmas events in a bid to lift the gloom and are finding ways to fund the festivities.

In St Ives, the community is being called on to pledge money to support the town’s Christmas lights. In Budleigh Salterton, volunteers, along with the council, stepped in to ensure (most of) the lights went on this year in the Devon town after the Chamber of Commerce pulled out citing escalating costs.