For many who grew up in Leeds, the Christmas lights form some of our most treasured childhood memories – but proposals from Leeds City Council could bring the era to an end from next year, writes Richard Beecham.
As part of proposed cuts to next year’s budget, the authority has said it will consult on whether to reduce its city centre Christmas lights, proposing a “much-reduced commercial festive light service”.
This would also see the axing of support for locally-organised displays in surrounding towns and communities – including those in West Leeds.
A report, which recommends the authority consults on the changes, said the council would stand to save around £208,000-a-year.
It is unclear on whether this would involve cancelling Leeds city centre’s traditional Christmas lights switch-on.
The plans, currently in an early consultation stage, would also involve the loss of nine full-time equivalent staff and the closure of the Leeds lights workshop in Seacroft.
A council spokesperson said it was being forced to look at paring back its lights services due to extreme financial pressures brought about, in part, by Covid-19.
A statement read:
“Proposed changes to the way Leeds delivers its festive lights service were approved for further consultation by the council’s executive board in October as part of a series of measures the council could take to meet the unprecedented financial pressures we are currently facing.
“At present, Leeds is the only core city which manufactures, maintains and installs its own city centre festive lights display as well as supporting the installation and maintenance of a number externally funded local district displays around the city.
“The proposed changes would see the council adopt a similar model to other core cities by instead funding a reduced festive lights service just for the city centre, saving an estimated £208,000 from our budget. Consultation with staff and trade unions is currently ongoing.
“We remain committed to celebrating the festive season in Leeds but unfortunately the financial realities we are confronted with mean we are being forced to make some incredibly difficult decisions about the services we will be able to provide in future.”
Leeds City Council is currently facing a funding shortfall of £118m for the forthcoming financial year, caused in part by a loss of revenue and extra costs related to Covid-19.
There currently more than 15 miles and 1,200 individual Christmas light motifs across the city. The main Christmas display consists of 469 Lamp column motifs across the city centre, the Christmas tree in City Square and festoon curtains and rope lights to cover the town hall and Civic Hall.
The Leeds Christmas lights switch-on has long been one of the city centre’s most popular events, attracting a who’s-who of famous guests over the years, such as Paul Daniels, Mr Blobby and Right Said Fred.
The report states:
“District centres, and outlying towns and villages and others would need to seek other commercial providers.
“Events would need to bear the full costs of accessing the HDU unit, and storage options reviewed. The disposal or sale of existing light motifs would need to be determined.
“In addition to staff and the public, consultation is required with organisations that currently purchase services from Leeds Lights. Early engagement is required with the retail sector in the city centre in particular, and with the Business Improvement District – including to investigate any additional funding or other opportunities.
“It is proposed that £100,000 is retained to tender for a much reduced commercial Festive Light Service just for the city centre – a similar model to that delivered by other core cities.”
Although the changes have been recommended by Leeds City Council officers, the authority’s 2021/22 budget is not expected to be finalised until early next year.