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Which city is doing right by its residents this Christmas – budget Dundee or all-out Perth?

Dundonian barista Kerri-Louise thinks her hometown should be doing more for the kids, while Perthshire retiree Andy wishes Perth would spend less on festivities. reports.
Rebecca Baird
Dundee has scaled back its Winterfest, while Perth has continued to invest in its festive celebrations. Image: DC Thomson.
Dundee has scaled back its Winterfest, while Perth has continued to invest in its festive celebrations. Image: DC Thomson.

When it comes to festive markets, Winterfests and city centre Christmas celebrations, Tayside tells a tale of two cities.

In one corner we have Dundee, which has had its council-run City Square lights switch-on event scrapped in recent years.

And its privately-run Winterfest, which was already being ‘scaled back’ according to reports last month, has, at the time of writing, failed to appear at all in the city centre as planned, with the council saying they “received no formal proposal for Winterfest to be part of the city’s official Christmas festivities this year”..

While 20 minutes down the A90, Perth is famed for its decked-out lights switch-on events, which have hosted acts including Cascada, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, Atomic, Kitten, Nina Nesbitt and stalwart Stephen Mulhearn.

This year, former X-Factor contestant Chico will be joining the festivities.

Stephen Mulhern on Main Stage, Tay Street, Perth, November 2022. Image: Steve MacDougall /DC Thomson.

And for Dryburgh mum Kerri-Louise Docherty, Perth’s all-out approach is the only way to go.

People ‘avoiding’ Dundee in favour of Perth

“Dundee needs to do more for the kids,” says Kerri-Louise, 26, who travels to Perth each year with her son Rudi, 6, to enjoy the Christmas celebrations there, despite living in Dundee.

“We’ve got a lot of memories of going to Perth, and not even just seeing the lights being switched on, but going and seeing the stalls, taking the to kids the carnival.

“It’s a good night out, and when we had all the stuff going on in previous years in Dundee City Square, it was the same – it was great.

Kerri-Louise Docherty, 26, with her son Rudi at Perth’s winter market. Image: Supplied.

“But I’ll be going to Perth this year, as they’ve got live music, and people like Stephen Mulhearn. I’ve watched him for years on TV, as a child I loved his magic tricks.

“So if he’s coming to switch on the lights in a city that’s 10 minutes away from me, of course I’m going to go and see him.”

Kerri-Louise, who works as a barista at city centre coffee shop Blend, insists she’s not alone in her approach, saying: “People aren’t travelling to Dundee at Christmas, people are avoiding here.

“And the people of Dundee are travelling elsewhere to spend their time and make their memories.

“We’re missing out on all that revenue that could be brought into local businesses. Financially, the council could be benefitting more by having people coming in.”

Rudi with his cousin Jaxon, five, at the Perth carnival. Image: Supplied.

And although she understands that Dundee City Council are aiming to save money by scaling back the city centre Christmas offering, Kerri-Louise is sceptical about how much of that benefit is being passed to the city’s residents.

“They’ve said they’re cutting back on everything to save money, and they’ve done that with Bonfire Night too – so where’s all that money going? They’re saying a lot, but they’re not showing us a lot.”

Public services more important than Christmas ‘extravaganza’

Meanwhile it seems the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, as Perthshire man Andy Simpson wishes Perth and Kinross Council would prioritise local services over the city’s “extravagant” Winterfest.

“I live in Pitlochry, and we’ve just been told that our leisure centre is under threat,” explains Andy, 43, a retired Royal Mail employee.

“They’ve shut down two of the public toilets, there’s only one public toilet now in the town. As for the library, the hours have been cut so much that nobody even knows when that’s open.

Andy Simpson outside Live Active Atholl, in Pitlochry, which is under threat of closure according to locals and leisure centre staff. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

“But they can find money to pay for this big extravaganza?”

For dad-of-two Andy, it’s “frustrating” to see the council spending money on festivities when his day-to-day life is under threat from budget cuts, and he insists there’s “no chance” he’ll take his sons to Perth’s Winterfest this year out of principle.

“I had a heart attack when I was only 40,” he explains. “I was too ill to drive anywhere, so if it wasn’t for my doctor referring me to the local leisure centre… well, let’s just say that place saved my life.

Santa at the Christmas lights switch-on in Perth, 2022. Image: Steve MacDougall /DC Thomson.

“It is literally a lifeline for people here. And now we’re being told that there’s maybe not enough money to keep that leisure centre open. We’ve had to start a petition.

“It just seems like a bit of a contradiction when you see millions getting spent on Chico and the like.”

What is the thinking behind each council’s approach to Christmas?

Dundee City Council leader John Alexander defended Dundee’s budget Christmas, saying: “Perth & Kinross Council spend a huge amount of money on their Christmas event.

“With all due respects to them, I’ve prioritised allocating an addition £500,000 of support for citizens suffering at the hands of the cost-of-living crisis during the winter months.

“Supporting foodbanks and larders, providing warm clothing and blankets and extra advise and fuel support – if Christmas is about anything, it’s about looking after those less fortunate.”

Chico will perform at this year’s Perth Christmas lights switch-on event. Image: Steve MacDougall/DCT Media.

Meanwhile Perth and Kinross Council leader Grant Laing said: “Our Christmas events deliver a significant seven-figure boost to the local economy and bring thousands of visitors to Perth in the lead-up to Christmas, benefiting businesses, including many independent traders, in the city.

“We are acutely aware of the cost of living crisis and how it is impacting many residents. This year’s event is free to attend and, with free bus travel on offer, accessible to all.”

Do you think your city does Christmas right? Tell us below in the comments.