Cash-strapped Scottish councils splash out on ‘celebrities’

Ayrshire Council hired the singer Gareth Gates for its Christmas lights switch-on. The event cost �14,950. Picture: Piers Allardyce/REX/Shutterstock
Ayrshire Council hired the singer Gareth Gates for its Christmas lights switch-on. The event cost �14,950. Picture: Piers Allardyce/REX/Shutterstock
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Scottish councils have been shelling out thousands of pounds to celebrities, sports stars, pop groups and television personalities over the past few years despite squeezed local authority budgets.

Several local authorities across the country have paid big money to celebrities to take part in elaborate Christmas lights switch-ons and other high-profile events.

Olympic curling star Eve Muirhead was paid �4,000 by Dumfries and Galloway Council. Picture: John Devlin

Olympic curling star Eve Muirhead was paid �4,000 by Dumfries and Galloway Council. Picture: John Devlin

A series of Freedom of Information requests made to councils by Scotland on Sunday have revealed the extent to which taxpayers’ money has been used to fund appearances by celebrities ranging from Olympic medallists to teen idols.

The amount spent has been questioned at a time when households are facing rising council tax bills.

Last Christmas, Renfrewshire Council spent £12,000 to the Northern Irish pop group Ash to perform at the lights switch-on. Some of the cost was offset by £2,000 raised by private business and sponsorship.

The same ceremony in 2016 saw the council fork out £10,000 plus £2,699 on travel and expenses for the Scouting for Girls pop group.

Ray Mears received �2,000 from Sterling for opening the fishing season. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

Ray Mears received �2,000 from Sterling for opening the fishing season. Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA

Also in 2016, South Ayrshire Council hired the singer Gareth Gates for its Christmas lights switch-on. Gates’s fee came from the overall production fee of £14,950 for the event.

South Ayrshire’s celebrations in honour of Robert Burns have also seen substantial sums paid to well-known faces. For example, River City actress Libby McArthur was given £1,025 for appearing at the Robert Burns Humanitarian Awards last year.

The £50,000 bill for putting on South Ayrshire’s most recent Burnsfest included fees for; The Silencers, Marmalade, the Christians and BMX Bandits.

Perth and Kinross Council’s Winter Festival saw East 17 receive £4,100, Boyzlife2 £9,000 and vintage rockers Mud receive £5,000.

The overall cost of the festival that saw Alesha Dixon and the rock band The Hunna appear alongside other artists came to £43,000.

John O’Connell, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “At a time when councils are cutting back on other services, they can’t justify giving vast amounts of taxpayers’ money to Z-list celebrities.”

Olympic curling star Eve Muirhead was paid £4,000 by Dumfries and Galloway Council for four days’ work
 in 2015. Dumfries and Galloway also paid celebrity chef Gary MacLean £1,500 for a cookery demonstration in 2017.

In Aberdeenshire, the fashion designer Wayne Hemingway was paid £5,000 for being guest speaker at a 2016 awards ceremony. Countryfile presenter Adam Henson received £2,000 from Stirling Council for opening the fishing season in 2015. Ray Mears also received £2,000 the following year for the same event.

X Factor contestants Ryan Lawrie and Nicolas MacDonald received £400 and £2,000 respectively for turning on the Christmas lights in East Ayrshire in 2017 and 2014.

Last night local authorities defended their spending decisions on the basis that well-known faces brought visitors to the area and stimulated the local economy.