Communities across the Highlands have been left scrambling to foot bills of thousands of pounds for Christmas lights in town and village centres, it has emerged.
The festive season in 2019 will be the first to feel the full force of a council decision made last year to stop funding town centre Christmas lights, which can cost up to £10,000.
Councillor Andrew Baxter, area chairman in Lochaber, said the decision was another sign that Inverness councillors were making decisions that didn’t impact on them – but had “huge consequences” throughout the region.
Mr Baxter explained: “Inverness councillors can always rely on the huge amounts of money in its Common Good Fund to provide many things that are not achievable without council support in rural and smaller areas.
“We will be working with the local community to provide Christmas decoration in Fort William. We will need plenty of support and we will be doing fundraising.
“In other areas there are already very good displays that will continue.”
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Many of the council’s area committees have discussed the change in policy.
Councillor Bill Lobban, Badenoch and Strathspey area chairman, said: “We have still to speak about matter at our area committee in May. I have asked, and am expecting, a full report on the full costs of the Christmas lights.”
While discussions at council level have still to take place in Wick and Thurso, it is hoped plans to involve the community will see good displays in both towns – with smaller displays in various towns and villages.
Thurso councillor Struan Mackie said: “We are very grateful to a committed set of volunteers who have a Christmas lights group.
“But to others it may come as a big surprise as it has been something they think the council has always done. But it is not one of the council’s core activities – and will no longer be funded. But no one wants towns to be caught out in November when no lights go up.”
In Nairn, Councillor Tom Heggie said he was hoping the area’s Business Improvement District would get involved.
A group in Portree has been working towards hosting a Christmas lights event, and councillors are already involved in providing support.
A spokesman for Highland Council said the budget decision to cease paying for lights, or offering help in kind, was made in 2018. Last year a budget was found to continue to support various town centre lights.
But as of this year there would be no in kind, or other support. Services such as using the cherry picker to put up lights, or to provide electricity for the lights, or procurement for lights, provided to community groups by the local authority would now be charged for.
Christmas lights previously provided free by the council:
Beauly, Tomich, Cannich, Balnain, Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus, Gorthleck, Foyers, Dores, Tomatin, Ardersier, Croy, Balloch, Nairn -Auldearn and Cawdor, Lochaber and Portree
Christmas lights previously provided with in kind, support funded by the community with support from the council’s lighting team:
Smithton and Culloden, Ardgay, Invergarry, Inverlochy, Inshes Park, Woodside, Strothers Lane and the Inverness Christmas Extravaganza.