You couldn't make it up.
An investigation by The Sun (£) has today revealed that Councils spent more than £750,000 on the services of celebrities (that may be a generous term) for concerts, competitions, Christmas light switch-ons and curry competitions.
Among the more remarkable findings:
- Armagh Council in Northern Ireland spent £26,800 on Kian Egan, formerly of Westlife
- St Helens Borough Council spent £10,000 on The Lightning Seeds for their Christmas lights switch-on and, deciding that wasn't enough, found another £16,030 to spend on Union J
- A performance from seventies band Sister Sledge cost Waltham Forest taxpayers £18,000
- Tower Hamlets coughed up just over £10,000 to Ainsley Harriot so that he might judge a curry competition.
Most of the Councils, when pressed on this spending, have said that they're just trying to create positive PR or build a sense of community. As I told BBC London this morning, community doesn't come from council spending. Civic pride comes from clean streets and good schools, not getting a celeb in to do a star turn for twenty minutes and turn some lights on.
What makes this all the more galling is the tendency of these same Councils to complain about the funding settlements they receive from central government. It's worth bearing in mind this wasteful spending the next time one of these councils complains that it'll have to put up taxes because of "the cuts" - clearly, there is plenty of fat to trim.
Sister Sledge might have sung "gotta get back to love," but councils should get back to basics. Taxpayers want essential services they can count on. That should be prioritised over the desire of officials to have a jolly night out and a few publicity photos.
We were quoted in The Sun story, have spoken to the BBC and ITV on the issue, and are prominent in many of the follow-up stories today. You can read the full details via the Daily Mail here.