All we can really ask is that those charged with making these savings target waste and inefficiency first. Unnecessary and frivolous spending must take the first hit, putting off more damaging cuts to front line services and jobs until there is absolutely nothing else left to axe.
A period of austerity will put all expenditure under intense scrutiny. Which is why Dover District Council’s spending on bottled water and water coolers, revealed exclusively by the Dover Express this week, will certainly anger taxpayers whose hard-earned money will be spread all the more thinly as the authority seeks cuts of up to 40 per cent in the coming years.
We discovered, using Freedom of Information laws, that in 2007/09 the council spent in excess of £14,000 on bottled water, water coolers and filtration systems to provide drinking water at its offices.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance, unsurprisingly, was outraged by this revelation, with campaign manager Emma Boon telling the Express:
Taxpayers will be furious that at a time when the Government is talking about making big spending cuts the council is spending money on luxuries like bottled water.
Council tax has doubled in the last decade, but this money is not being spent on better services for local people, it’s being wasted on unnecessary extras like this.
There’s that word again: unnecessary. Does the council really need to provide chilled and filtered water? Why the hell can’t its staff, who are currently enjoying a pay freeze as the authority fights to balance the books, simply turn on the tap like everyone else?
It’s this kind of spending which will really anger taxpayers as cuts are made which will inevitably hit services despite the promises of our politicians to the contrary.
I accept this outlay on drinking water represents an incredibly small proportion of the council budget, but you try telling that to a small sports club or youth project which loses out on just a few hundred pounds in funding because the council is skint.
It’s also just the tip of the iceberg. If the council, which when asked by the Express gave no indication that it plans to scrap this spending on drinking water, can waste money on this, then who is to say what other unnecessary spending is going on across its departments?
As we enter this era of public sector austerity it is the duty of local journalists to use the access made possible by the Freedom of Information Act to uncover this kind of unnecessary spending and ask, on behalf of their readers, the tough questions which inevitably follow. At the Express we certainly intend to do so.