ST HELENS Council has defended spending £45,000 on music acts that included Lightning Seeds and Scouting for Girls at last Christmas's lights spectacular.

The figure was reported by The Sun newspaper after Freedom of Information requests were submitted to councils across the country.

The Lightning Seeds, who were paid £10,000, were top of a bill which also saw Scouting for Girls, paid £15,000, and X-Factor finalists Paul Akister and Lola Saunders perform in Victoria Square.

The overall cost of music acts was £45,000, while a further £37,600 was spent on lighting and decorations.

A St Helens Council spokesman said: "You can’t put a value on the community benefits of events like the Christmas lights switch on. Bringing people together in these hard-pressed times, to enjoy some free, seasonal entertainment, is something that we would always advocate.

“There are also some serious economic benefits, with thousands of people arriving in the town centre to help our hard-pressed town centre traders.

"We know our retailers, bars and restaurants appreciate our efforts to promote and support the town centre with a vibrant programme of activities and events.”

The news comes in the face of cuts of an estimated £14.1m that the council will have to make in 2015 to 2016, but the local authority also regularly comes in for criticism by those who believe it does not do enough to inject life into the town centre.

Today's national reports stated town halls have forked out more than £750,000 on booking celebrities to appear at events, according to new figures.

More than 348 councils spent a total of £753,013 on acquiring the services of stars for events including concerts, competitions and Christmas lights switch-ons last year, the Freedom of Information revealed.

Former Westlife singer Kian Egan was paid £26,800 to perform by Armagh Council, while the Happy Mondays were paid £25,000 by Coventry City Council, which spent £93,750 in total on its annual Godiva Festival.

The paper also said TV chef Ainsley Harriott picked up £10,750 from the London borough of Tower Hamlets for judging a curry competition, 70s band Sister Sledge were paid £18,000 to perform by the London borough of Waltham Forest and St Helens Metropolitan Borough Council, in Merseyside, spent £10,000 on getting the Lightning Seeds to turn the area's Christmas lights on.

The total figure could be higher as 79 councils did not respond to the FoI requests, the Sun reported.

Andy Silvester of the Taxpayers' Alliance told the paper: "You couldn't make it up. The deficit must be cut, and that means councils waging war on wasteful spending like this."

The Local Government Association (LGA) said last week councils had seen a "40% real terms reduction in funding" since 2010 and urged the Government to ensure authorities were "adequately funded" with long-term cash allocations.