COUNCILS in the North-East spent almost half a million pounds on Christmas decorations this year, The Northern Echo can reveal.

Authorities paid £498,944 to light up towns and cities across the region in 2017/18.

Most have reduced their budgets for festive decorations as part of wide-ranging cutbacks in government funding.

The region’s biggest spender was Newcastle City Council at £150,293.70.

In 2016-17, the authority spent £180,162.70, which included £40,000 from NE1 Limited, Newcastle City Centre Bid Company.

Other than Gateshead Council, which has spent nothing on decorations since 2014, the cheapest decorations were in Darlington, where the council spent £21,000 this year, compared to £30,232.32 last year, which included £28,237.32 putting up lights and £1,995 on a spruce tree.

It had been feared there would be no lights at all in Darlington this year after the town’s Distinct Darlington company was discontinued, but in September the council announced the levy of about £20,000 that its town centre sites had paid to Distinct Darlington would instead be channelled into the illuminations.

Durham County Council has had a budget of £36,000 for Christmas decorations for the past few years. It goes on trees, lights and decorations for seven roundabouts throughout the county, as well as various locations in Durham City, Chester-le-Street town centre, Consett town centre, Bishop Auckland town centre and Crook town centre.

John Reed, head of technical services at the authority, said: “Our budget this year for Christmas trees, decorations and lights throughout the county is £36,000, which has remained the same since 2012. We provide Christmas trees at a number of key locations as well as decorations in five towns to welcome residents and visitors alike and to share some festive cheer.

“In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever to attract people to our town centres and the decorations help attract trade for local businesses over the Christmas period.”

Middlesbrough’s festive budget increased this year to £60,900 - up from 2016’s bill of £59,365.40.

Deputy mayor and executive member for city centre strategy, Councillor Charlie Rooney said: “As the city heart of the Tees Valley, Middlesbrough is one of the region’s key focal points in the run-up to Christmas and the New Year.

“Any city centre needs a vibrant and diverse offer if it is to thrive and prosper, and the festive season is the busiest time of year for retailers, restaurateurs and leisure providers.

“A packed and attractive Christmas programme is proven to increase town centre footfall and dwell time, bringing clear benefits to local businesses. Where possible we will always look to partnership and sponsorship arrangements to provide the best possible value for money for local people.”

Sunderland City Council has a projected spend of £38,781.98 for this year - almost exactly the same as in 2016. A spokesman said: “The city council has installed lights and illuminations across the city centre for many years. Christmas lights and events are an integral part of the festive season across all of Sunderland.”

South Tyneside Council spent £92,000 this year – £2,000 less than 2016.

A spokesperson said: “Due to ongoing unprecedented funding cuts from central government, we have reduced our spend on Christmas lights and trees over recent years. However, we remain committed to creating impressive displays across our three town centres.”