I still remember the moment I realised – beyond doubt – that I wanted to be a journalist. It was the autumn of 2006 and Leo Whitlock, then editor of the Kentish Express in Ashford, had invited me into his newsroom for a week of work experience.
The work was the usual fare assigned to the eager but inexperienced: bashing out a bit of filler and the chance to grab a byline or two with some safe human interest tales. But what I remember to this day was my disbelief that this was actually considered work. Here was a room full of clever people, being nosy and argumentative, drinking tea and cracking jokes – all while producing something that thousands of people would read each and every week.
I knew immediately that this was the kind of life I wanted to experience for myself.
This week we revealed Dover District Council spends thousands of pounds every year on catering, including £220 a time on buffets for councillors before meetings.
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.
This week we exclusively revealed the financial difficulties facing P&O Ferries, the market leader on the English Channel and one of the area’s biggest employers.
We obtained an internal staff notice, circulated to employees of the Dover-based company on July 27, in which chief executive Helen Deeble outlined in frank terms the very immediate challenges facing the business.
A combination of “strong recessionary pressures” and the effects of a price war launched by its competitors, both on the Channel and underneath it, have left the company with no choice but to find ways of cutting costs.
Public sector cuts in the coming months and years are set to be deep and painful. Budgets will be slashed, services will be hit and jobs will be lost.
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.