Sadiq Khan has been told there is “no reason” why he should have cancelled London’s New Year’s Eve fireworks, after City Hall claimed that proceeding risked squandering taxpayers’ money.
Sajid Javid hit out at the Mayor of London on Thursday over the decision not to go ahead with the Thames display this year, arguing there was a “perfectly safe way that it can take place”.
The Health Secretary added that he could not “understand that decision” and urged Mr Khan to reconsider the move.
His intervention comes two days after City Hall announced that the annual celebrations would be cancelled for the second year running, blaming “uncertainty” caused by Covid-19.
Sources close to Mr Khan insist that the planning for the event normally starts months in advance and that at the time this was due to commence the UK remained under more stringent Covid-19 restrictions.
“It takes a year to organise an event of this magnitude, and for most of that year we have been in lockdown and Covid-19 uncertainty with the Government unable to confirm if mass gatherings would be able to go ahead,” one said on Thursday.
“To arrange an event on the Thames which had to then be cancelled would have wasted millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at a time of major financial pressures.”
According to publicly available accounts, the last firework display in 2019 cost £2.3 million, of which £1.05 million was forecast to have been offset by ticket sales. The wider economic boost to London’s hotels, businesses and tourist attractions was estimated at £12 million.
Fireworks and drones illuminate the sky over the O2 in London after the capital's normal New Year's Eve fireworks display was cancelled due to Covid
Credit: Victoria Jones/PA
Instead, City Hall is now preparing to announce an alternative event at Trafalgar Square.
Licensing applications for the event suggest it is likely to include a concert or a live music event. Fireworks are not expected to be held.
Asked why the traditional fireworks were not going ahead, Mr Javid told LBC: “Obviously that’s a decision from the Mayor, but from my point of view, I can’t understand why that can’t happen.
“I mean, I think there’s a perfectly safe way that that can take place, so I really don’t understand that decision, but as I say, that’s not a decision for the Government. It’s the Mayor’s firework display, so I hope he can reconsider it.
“I think the London fireworks display normally in New Year’s is fantastic and it’s a great advert for the UK across the world. As I said, I see no reason why it can’t happen safely.”
His comments were echoed by Nickie Aiken, the Tory MP for the Cities of London and Westminster and former leader of Westminster Council, who told The Telegraph: “Rather than tinkering, what London needs is a big, bold, brave demonstration that we are back, we are open and we want to welcome people from all home nations and across the world.
“The central London economy needs these events. I think it is a bit of a slap in the face for hospitality and hotels. I also think it is a backwards step.
“The Mayor of London should really consider this decision and the message it sends, not just to Londoners but visitors from across the UK and the rest of the world.
“This is a situation the former mayor of London would have been a lot braver about. This mayor seems to want to bring London down.”