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Council that vetoed cash for food banks to spend £50,000 on coronation

Exclusive: Tory-controlled Bromley Council is among those spending a total of £3.8m on royal-themed events

Jenna Corderoy
Adam Bychawski Jenna Corderoy
5 May 2023, 11.46am

Flags in Covent Garden, London. Councils have spent £3.8m of their own cash on coronation events and materials, openDemocracy has discovered


SOPA Images / Contributor

Cash-strapped local councils across the UK plan to spend more than £3.8m of their own money on events to mark the coronation of King Charles III this weekend, openDemocracy can reveal.

Some councils are spending tens of thousands on celebrations from their already stretched budgets despite having been forced to cut services and raise taxes to avoid bankruptcy.

The findings come months after warnings that councils need to find an extra £2.4bn this year to cover energy price rises and inflationary cost pressures.

Among the councils spending the most is east London’s Barking and Dagenham, the fifth most deprived local authority in the UK, which is planning to spend £155,000 over the weekend.

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Dominic Twomey, the deputy leader of the Labour-run council, admitted in March that the borough’s finances were at breaking point after years of central government cuts and rising demand. 

“We’ve already delivered more than £175m in savings since 2010 and there’s a further £5.689m planned this year – we’re reaching the point where there’s nothing left to cut,” he said.

Conservative-led Bromley Council is spending £50,000 on coronation celebrations, which it said will be taken from its community fund, usually reserved for grants to charities.

Last year, Tory council leader Colin Smith vetoed a proposal by the Labour opposition leader to give community groups grants to open warm banks for residents struggling to heat their homes and additional funding for food banks during winter on cost grounds. 

Labour opposition leader Simon Jeal said he didn’t oppose the spending, but that “it’s odd the Conservatives don’t fund celebrations for any other sorts of events”.

Jeal showed openDemocracy a Labour proposal put forward in February to create a £5,000 fund for residents to run community events for a range of occasions including Eid, Remembrance Sunday, Black History Month, Pride month, Chanukah and Chinese New Year. He said the Tories rejected the plan.

Big spenders

These are all of the councils spending over £100,000 on the coronation. Among them is east London’s Barking and Dagenham, the fifth most deprived local authority in the UK.

Top spot

Ealing plans to spend the most, with over £180,000 going towards a live screening, performances, fireworks and more. In December, the council said it would have to make at least £2m of savings from its budget for public health, adult social care, and leisure centres.

Cash-strapped councils aren't deterred

Even the most deprived councils are spending significantly on celebrations, despite a recent poll finding that almost two-thirds of Brits have no interest in the event.

It'll cost you

Councils have spent £3.8m of their own cash – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Estimates of the total cost of the coronation to taxpayers range from £50m to £150. This chart represents the lowest estimate.

Ealing Council said it plans to spend £182,268, of which it has already put down £160,000. Following a live screening of the coronation, the council has programmed several musical performances and a fireworks display.

In December, the Labour-led council said it was facing a deficit of £5m and would have to make at least £2m of savings from its budget for public health, adult social care, and leisure centres.

The council is currently fighting a legal challenge over its plans to turn Ealing Town Hall – described as the borough’s “crown jewels” – into a 140-bed, boutique hotel. Signing off the plans in 2016, councillors said the move was necessary because the Grade II-listed building is “very expensive to maintain and repair and is in considerable need of refurbishment”.

Southampton City Council is planning to spend £5,000 on coronation signs for lamp posts, despite being unable to afford the electricity bill to keep them on all night. The Labour-led council is reportedly facing bankruptcy next year and has already increased council tax by 4.99%.

openDemocracy sent Freedom of Information requests to every local authority in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland asking how much they were planning to spend on the coronation. Out of 317 authorities, 286 replied and 160 said they were planning some spending to mark the occasion. On average, councils are planning to spend more than £13,000 with 26 shelling out more than £50,000 each.

A decade of cuts to local government funding has led to a third of England’s libraries closing, fewer accessible bus routes outside of London and less frequent waste collection, according to a report published last year.

One council said it would use the occasion to help people struggling with the cost of living crisis. Eastleigh Borough Council said it plans to spend £1,600 to provide 400 free meals on Saturday.

Councils do not appear to have been deterred from spending significantly on celebrations despite a recent poll finding that almost two-thirds of Brits have no interest in the event.

Unofficial estimates put the cost of the coronation to taxpayers between £50m and £150m in total.

Updated 16 May 2023: This article has been amended in light of information from Cheshire West and Chester Council, which informed us of an error in the data we had been sent. That council was planning to spend £35,000, not £57,000 as stated.

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