Brent Council could axe Christmas (and St. Patrick’s Day)

Cash strapped council chiefs consult on plans to drastically reduce their festival offering

Brent Council could scrap public Christmas celebrations under controversial proposals to slash their festival budget.

The popular St. Patricks Day parade through Willesden, and annual Chanukah, Eid and Navatri, celebrations, could also be ditched as part of cuts by cash strapped Brent Council.

But while Christmas illuminations could soon be a thing of the past, Diwali, fireworks night and Countryside are likely to be spared.

Anis Kapadia, from the Kilburn Business Friends, who organised Kilburn’s first Christmas festival this year, said: “It is sad for the community. Christmas is something we could be cheerful and positive about, and decorations are a big part of that.

“From a business angle I think it is really sad because with council support our high streets could attract those valuable Christmas shoppers.”

In a major overhaul to Brent’s festivals programme, councillors have begun consulting on two proposals which would drastically reduce their arts offering.

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In the first, preferred by the executive, all festivals will be stopped apart from a Brent festival which will include Respect and Countryside Day. Diwali, Holocaust Memorial Day and Bonfire Night will also be continued.

And funding for Diwali celebrations – which are the largest outside India – will be cut by �25,000, saving the council �231,000 in total.

Council chiefs are also consulting on an option that would see all festivals axed and the team disbanded – estimated to save �508,000 minus redundancy costs.

Jack Sawyers, a former Mapesbury councillor who lives in Howard Road, Cricklewood and a well respected member of the Irish community, said people will be ‘distraught’.

He said: “As an Irishman this is not surprising. Everything Irish has gone – the Irish centre in Queen’s Park, and now the St. Patricks Day parade.

“St. Patrick’s Day is popular across all section of the Brent community, and it brings people and trade to the area. It is a tragedy.”

If the executive agree the cuts in June they will be implemented immediately – meaning this year’s Christmas lights could be the council’s last.

Cllr James Powney (Labour: Kensal Rise ward), lead member for culture, rebutted claims the council was acting like a ‘scrooge’ and said people would understand that tough choices were necessary at a time of swinging cuts.

He said: “Festivals aren’t as big a priority as other, frontline, council services. If you asked people to choose between this and cutting provision of children’s services, it will be pretty clear is the most important.”

Cllr Powney said that Brent’s Diwali celebrations would be kept under the preferred option because it ‘paid its way’ in attracting thousands of people from outside the borough.