COMMENT: Christmas can't excuse frivolity with public money

As a long weekend of Christmas festivity begins It might seem churlish to draw attention to the cost  of decorating our streets for the season of goodwill.

Friday, 21st December 2018, 4:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 10:40 am

After all, we would be the first to criticise any Scrooge-like local authority which failed to enhance city and town centres with lights to brighten the long dark afternoons and evenings of December as shoppers feverishly hunt for gifts.

We all know our high streets are in dire straits as internet shopping grips the nation, and civic chiefs should be doing all they can to keep the local economy buoyant.

But our enquiries into the comparative cost of local displays revealed some startling discrepancies.

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Havant and Waterlooville has managed to add twinkle to its shopping streets for a mere £3,900, with battery-operated lights bought last year for £1,983.80.

At the other end of the scale comes Portsmouth, whose annual budget for Christmas lights is a whopping £70,500. Gosport spent £31,000 this year, and Fareham £49,000 '“ but that cost will be spread over five years.

Portsmouth has spent extra this year, with more lights, including some in smaller shopping streets such as Winter Road in Southsea.

The city's head of economic development, Cllr Ben Dowling believes the Christmas budget is money well-spent. He said: '˜Christmas lights provide an opportunity for communities to come together to celebrate the season and get into the festive spirit. They are also an important mechanism for supporting local businesses in our high street and enabling economic growth in the city.'

Hard to argue with the sentiment, but in times when every penny of public spending has to count, there is no room for frivolity where public money is concerned, even if it is Christmas.

The usual value for money tests must be applied to ensure taxpayers are getting the best deal possible. When we hear of cutbacks for 11 months of the year, a bill of £70,000 for Christmas is a worry.