The details of the spending, obtained by the Express under Freedom of Information laws, were exposed shortly after our report detailing council expenditure on providing bottled and filtered water for its staff.
In both cases the amounts of money involved are admittedly small when stood alongside the authority’s budget as a whole. This has led some members of the online community to brand our report as, variously, a “sad silly season story” and “cheap journalism”. It seems a lot of people are quite happy for councillors to be fed and watered at the expense of the man in the street, even at a time when the public sector is facing deep and painful cuts.
At the weekend I was talking with a district council employee whose job could be at risk later in the year as posts are cut in a bid to balance the budget.
She has been with the council for a few years and is, I can only assume, on a relatively meagre salary – my guess would be somewhere in the region of £12-14,000.
Perhaps if she’s sacked in the coming months those dismissing our story could try telling her, while she’s queuing at the job centre, that the amount spent on drinking water and buffets is “inconsequential”, as one observer described it?
The point of these stories is not that the amount of money in question is shockingly high, it is that it’s being spent at all.
Why, when public sector workers across the country are facing the threat of redundancy and the public are facing cuts to services, should councillors and officers be provided with food and drink at taxpayers’ expense?
The council will tell you it’s because when they have to attend a meeting at 6pm they have no time to go home and eat beforehand. This is a ridiculous argument. What’s to stop them packing a ham sandwich and an apple to eat before the meeting starts? Nothing.
Public sector bosses have been quick to warn us about impending budget cuts while at the same time insisting front line services will be protected, but how can they look the public in the eye when this kind of spending is still happening?
The only test accountants in organisations such as DDC should be applying is this: does the spending in question directly benefit the people they serve, those who pay their council tax and elect their members? Any expenditure which fails this simple test should go – immediately.
As I argued in a previous blog post: “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.”
Feel free to dismiss council spending on bottled water and buffets as inconsequential if you like. But let’s not be mistaken, these are outgoings which could be cut with no adverse impact on taxpayers.
That makes them, at a time when DDC is slashing its budget and workers are facing the prospect of the dole queue, both unnecesary and wrong.
UPDATE: This came in from DDC before the bank holiday weekend in relation to members’ allowances.
A council spokesman said: “The basic allowance is £4,223 per annum, which is the second lowest in east Kent. On top of that councillors are entitled to claim a maximum of one special responsibility allowance if they hold a position entitling them to one, such as chairman of a committee, travel and subsistence allowance for approved duties only, and the dependants’ carers’ allowance where this applies.”
So councillors are awarded a “basic” allowance of slightly more than £80 per week. Is there a good reason why they can’t use this cash to buy something to eat before meetings?