Breckland’s app misery is a classic case of council business

Leader of Breckland Council, William Nunn. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Leader of Breckland Council, William Nunn. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

I had to have a chuckle at this week's furore surrounding Breckland Council.

To summarise, the council launched a new app - named ShopAppy - with the aim of helping local high street retailers battle national chains by allowing customers to browse and buy their products online.

However, at the same time, a mischievous Labour councillor took it upon himself to reveal where the authority had been spending its money in the last couple of months; and yes, you've guessed it, they've been splashing their cash with the national giants, including Amazon and Tesco, in favour of local retailers.

You can imagine the heads clunking down on desks at Breckland HQ when they realised they don't exactly practise what they preach. I suspect - rather than know - but this sounds a classic example of the right hand doing one thing, and the left hand another.

Some lowly bod has probably drummed up the idea of the app - and very noble an idea it is too - while in the office down the hall a bean counter is doing their best to save money for taxpayers by shopping as cheaply as possible. Even if that means at the national giants.

The problem has arrived at the point where the two ideas meet at board and cabinet level. It's there that someone should have clocked how hypocritical it looked, and dealt with it. I've had a few run-ins with Breckland as a reporter but it brings me no pleasure to see them made a fool. Apart from the aforementioned chuckle, of course.

At the same time, the story did raise a serious point about where councils spend their money.

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Unfortunately for them, it's a case of damned if they do, damned if they don't. Spend money with a local chain, but pay higher prices, and get accused of wasting money.

Spend it with the chains, and get accused of being unsupportive and hypocritical. For the retailers' part, they have legitimately raised the point that their prices could be lower if business rates - set by Breckland - were lower.

It's a chicken/egg situation, but you would hope that it is up to the council to take the lead and lower their business rates, rather than the retailer lowering their prices first in the hope that the council comes to them to buy items. Maybe a novel scheme would be for the council to strike up deals with local retailers to get cheaper prices on certain items? And even without that, I'm sure most taxpayers would be happy to see councils pay a little more, especially if it kept high streets buzzing.