Councils criticised for spending on celebrity ‘Christmas appearances’

Denise Van Outen turned on the Chelmsford Christmas lights in 2017. File Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Denise Van Outen turned on the Chelmsford Christmas lights in 2017. File Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Two Essex councils have spent more than £35,000 on celebrity appearances at Christmas light switch-ons in the last three years.

In research by the TaxPayers' Alliance, Chelmsford City Council (CCC) and Braintree District Council (BDC) are revealed to be the only spenders on celebrity presenters since 2016.

The biggest spend was £22,000 in one year in Chelmsford - when Denise Van Outen and then-Heart radio DJs Martin and Su led proceedings.

In three years, CCC spent £24,600 and BDC spent £11,699.97, however the figures for Braintree also include spending on communications and media with Heart Essex and Radio Essex as their celebrities were local radio hosts.

Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "Christmas lights are meant to bring the community together, not offer celebs the chance to pocket bumper appearance fees at residents' expense.

"It's ridiculous that TV stars are being paid big sums to flick a switch, when many local heroes would love to be asked and would happily turn on the festive lights at no cost."

While many councils did not have any celebrities at their Christmas events, Tendring District Council managed to get fellow TOWIE star Dan Osborne to switch on Clacton's Christmas lights at no cost to the taxpayer in 2017.

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X Factor runner-up Marcus Collins also switched on Clacton's lights for free the following year.

The figures do not include other running costs or additional pay to any council staff.

No council in Suffolk has spent any money on celebrity appearances since 2016.

Ipswich Borough Council arranged for the pantomime cast, which has featured celebrities in recent years like Britain's Got Talent dancer George Sampson, Emmerdale's Roxanne Pallett and S Club 7's Hannah Spearritt, at no extra cost.

In 2017 TOWIE star Gemma Collins switched on the Christmas lights at Freeport Braintree shopping village, but this was not organised by Braintree District Council.

Across the UK, 93% of councils have managed to run their switch-on events without paying for appearances from presenters or public personalities.

Tom Cunningham, cabinet member for economic development at Braintree District Council, said: "This year's Christmas event was a fantastic success and the feedback from our residents and businesses has been very positive.

"We've listened to residents who last year said they wanted more investment in Christmas town centre events.

"Thousands of people came into the town for the Light Switch On and yes, putting on such events costs money but we are pleased that the event offers value for money - the Radio Essex package cost £11,699 which includes; radio advertisement, staging, lighting, sound equipment, activities, street entertainment, face painting and presenters.

"We also had local entertainment from local singers and performers throughout the day which were at no cost to the taxpayer."

Chelmsford City Council was approached for comment.

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