Meet the C-listers turning on your Christmas lights

Local councils may be slashing their budgets but can still find the funds to pay reality TV 'stars' and others to illuminate their festive decorations.

Wanted: C-list celebrity for a few minutes' work on a dull winter evening. Applicants should be able to flick a switch and speak into a microphone. Must have appeared on television at least once, preferably on a talent/reality show. Willing to pay up to £15,000.

For most of us, this promises to be an impoverished Christmas. But if you are a local radio presenter, soap star or an X Factor also-ran, Yuletide can be profitable. Local councils are shedding jobs, but they are still paying "personalities" thousands of pounds in a desperate effort to entice shoppers into city centres. Olly Murs, Michelle McManus and Stacey Solomon are among those who have picked up thousands at switch-on ceremonies since the coalition's austerity measures kicked in.

Councillors also hire celebrities to carry out duties from opening libraries to handing out prizes. An Independent on Sunday survey of local councils has found that celebrities including Kirstie Allsopp, Ben Fogle and Steve Cram have been paid for services to local authorities. Lisburn City Council in Northern Ireland paid £26,500 to hire X Factor acts Jedward and Joe McElderry for their Mayor's Carnival in April.

Council chiefs insisted that the practice helped to draw attention to events. But spending watchdogs complained that councils should not be wasting their precious resources on "Z-list celebrities". Emma Boon, campaign director of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "Residents expect a bit of festive cheer in their town centre, but councils have got to get value for money in everything they do."

In Westminster, where the radio presenter Toby Anstis was paid thousands for hosting the West End LIVE event, a council spokeswoman said the costs were met by sponsorship.

Renfrewshire Council paid Olly Murs £15,000 to appear at the Christmas switch-on ceremony in 2010 and to Stacey Solomon this year.

Some celebrities flick on the Christmas lights on a pro bono basis. Cheshire East confirmed that Stuart Hall received no fee for launching its Empower Card – although "the council did pay his train fare". Former Coronation Street actress Tupele Dorgu switched on the lights in Newcastle for free while appearing in panto last year. While Newcastle native Joe McElderry donated his switching-on services for free, fellow X Factor singer Eoghan Quigg and Britain's Got Talent winner George Sampson were paid by Derby Council in 2009 and 2008.

Others this year include Peppa Pig in Blackburn, ex-Spice Girl Melanie C in Sheffield, Keith Chegwin in Salisbury, Top Gear's Stig in Thornbury and Cannon and Ball in Lincoln.

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