Curious case of Somerfield

I'VE been left scratching my head all week over the curious case of Somerfield in Ipswich.When the company first started fitting out its shop in Carr Street last summer the timing seemed strange to say the least.

I'VE been left scratching my head all week over the curious case of Somerfield in Ipswich.

When the company first started fitting out its shop in Carr Street last summer the timing seemed strange to say the least.

It had already been announced that the Co-op Retail Group was negotiating to take over Somerfield and, while the East of England Co-op is a separate organisation, whenever the national company has been involved in a takeover, it always passes shops on if there is a strong local society.

At the time of the takeover both the Co-op and Somerfield said they could not comment on a deal that was still up in the air, but no one thought that the bosses of the organisations hadn't talked to each other about the new store before work started.

Now it turns out that the Co-op knew nothing about Somerfield's new store - even though work didn't start until three months after the proposed takeover was announced.

And Co-op bosses, unsurprisingly, say they have no plans to take over a store that suddenly opened just a hundred metres away from their own food hall.

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I rather like the little Somerfield and I would be very sorry to see it go. I don't use it much because I would have to walk past Sainsbury's to get there from our office, but for those shopping in the town centre it was a welcome addition.

But what on earth possessed the bosses of Somerfield to open up there, knowing what was coming up just around the corner?

Had they opened a small store at the other end of the town centre, in Westgate Street where there are often vacant shop units, it is quite likely that the Co-op would have been happy to take over the store.

Now the best hope for retaining that food store is for another company operating small supermarkets - like Spar or Premier or even a small Tesco - to step in and take it over.

Otherwise we'll be left with just one more small empty shop unit in the middle of the town.

LIKE any other taxpayer, I don't like the idea of the money I am forced to pay to the government or local authorities being wasted - I want to know that we are getting the best possible value.

So it is quite right for opposition politicians like Ben Gummer to hold public bodies like councils or health bodies to account if he thinks they might be wasting our money.

But what I can't agree with is the assumption that any money being spent on “external consultants” is necessarily wrong and would be better channelled to “front-line services”.

There are times, for instance if an organisation is changing the way it operates, when it is advisable - necessary even - to bring in outside experts to give advice and help overcome problems that might arise.

If a fresh pair of eyes can identify savings that those working closer to the organisation can't see, isn't that good for the organisation . . . and the taxpayer?

Of course not all consultancy appointments are good or necessary - but to assume they are all bad is a very blinkered view.

This week Mr Gummer was very critical of the PCT appointing consultants aimed at improving access to GPs.

Frankly if there was never any change we would still be living in the world of the late 1940s or 50s - and to manage changes you do need to call in expert advice.

What Mr Gummer should do now is look at what the consultants are being appointed to do before he criticises their appointment - not just attack consultants for the sake of it.

THERE'S an awful lot of belt-tightening going on around the country - but I do wonder rather just how puritanical we're all supposed to be in the face of the growing recession . . . or should that be depression?

Last weekend one national newspaper screamed its disgust at a Burns' Night supper held at the Treasury for civil servants two days earlier.

Now far be it from me to defend London-based civil servants who have apparently cushy jobs bolstered by index-linked pensions and are in positions that are far more secure than those held by most of us.

But what was really so terrible about this junket?

The Treasury has a small number of function rooms, used for meetings and receptions - and the supper was held in one of these.

Those attending had to buy their own tickets at �30 a head (including half a bottle of wine) which frankly sounds about right. There was a cash bar - but I bet the cost of drinks there was more or less the same as that at a nearby pub.

So what ghastly crime were the civil servants guilty of? They socialised with their colleagues after work (it didn't start until 6pm) on a Friday evening - and paid for the event.

What are they supposed to do, trudge home after work every day and spend the evening contemplating what a terrible state the country is in?

No one wants to see profligacy or excess - but I hardly think a �30 Burns' Night supper should herald the end of civilisation as we know it!

FRANK Whittle is a councillor I've never come across, but he must be a man who is very content with life.

Because with all the problems besetting the world - from the recession, to wars, to jobs being under threat in his district of Mid Suffolk, all he can find to moan about is the position of a picture of the Queen on the wall of the council chamber!

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