Money in the news and how you are going to pay and pay and pay
THE backlash against tubby comic Ricky Gervais started the minute people realised that he actually was David Brent.
From sickeningly false modesty over his success to his penchant for kissing the backsides of the rich and famous, Gervais is struggling to win back the public’s sympathy, particularly after his cringe-making Princess Di concert on-stage death. (Relive the horror here.)
Now, the millionaire star has been accused of latent greed, after tickets for his Edinburgh Fringe Festival show were priced at £37.50 a pop. It doesn’t sound very ‘fringe’ to me.
IT’S not only the nation’s lungs that are enjoying the smoking ban, according to mobile giant Orange. It seems that phone companies are also reaping the benefits of the ash-free pubs.
As smokers are forced outside to enjoy their guilty pleasure, they are also using their time-outs to text before heading back in for another pint.
Indeed, in the first two weeks after the introduction of the ban back in July, the number of texts sent rose by a staggering 7.5million across the Orange network.
Figures reveal that while 512 million texts were sent in the last two weeks of June, the total rose to 519.5 million in the first two weeks of July.
Nick Bonney of Orange says: “We see it as a halfway house for ostracised smokers – they can enjoy a cigarette and stay in touch with their mates.”
The company’s marketing boffins has even come up with the phrase “smexting” to describe texting outside the boozer when having a smoke.
If only they bloody banned texting in public places as well. Particularly trains. I’d love to see passengers pop outside of a moving train to text their loved one that they are “almst hme”.
However, the more switched on phone users will, no doubt, also have checked out Noodle by now – where talking is cheaper than texting!
GRASSES, snitches, squealers, police informants and narks are costing us with their blabbing – to the tune of a not very tuneful £2.2million a year. And that’s only in London. (Pic: Beau Bo D’Or)
This rather hefty figure comes courtesy of the Metropolitan Police, and refers to crime season 2006/07 when said amount was paid out in rewards for information about criminals operating in the capital and in other areas.
An additional £134,961 was also spent on “informant related expenditure” which includes accommodation, travel and the (large amounts of) food for police handlers. (Do police really need handlers? Actually, they really probably do, don’t they?)
Assistant Commissioner Steve House defends the figures and the fact that a breakdown of the expenditure had been kept secret.
Says he: “Most of our informants are doing this purely for money and they are involved in the criminal lifestyle and their lives are often at risk. The lack of transparency is to a certain extent deliberate. Informants, or as they are now called, Covert Human Intelligence Sources, are covert assets.
“It is not good sense to tell too much about any covert assets. We do not give too much detail…other than to say that Tony Blair was not necessarily spying for the Vatican.”
The last bit was made up, by the way.
THERE is something inherently uncool about a bluetooth headset. While the wearer may feel that they are the star of some futuristic James Bond movie, they look like either: a) a care-in-the-community enthusiast or b) an utter utter idiot.
Anyway, whether you prefer the futuristic ear-piece to the old-skool handset, there is a fair chance that you have been “slammed” by a phone company. “Slammed” is the term that the Guardian uses (in an apparent ‘street stylee’) to describe how phone companies sneakily lock customers in to expensive contracts or switchyou to a new supplier without your consent.
However, with an average of 400 complaints a month about the behaviour of phone companies clogging up their inbox, Ofcom have finally decided to act with the unveiling of a new, but voluntary code of practice aimed at curtailing the dodgy end of the mobile industry.
Under the new code, mobile networks will no longer be able to fob off irate customers with excuses that the problem is the responsibility of a third-party company that sold them the new phone or service. Already Orange, O2, T-Mobile, Vodaphone have signed up. Although you really should check out noodle to get the best out of your phone: cheap calls.
Tony Herbert of Citizens Advice is pleased at the introduction of the new guidelines. Says he: “The number of mobile phone problems seen by CAB increased by 84% in the nine months from April to December last year to around 6,000 in total. Many of the cases reported involve people being browbeaten into accepting a new mobile phone, being sent a phone against their express wishes, or being hoodwinked into agreeing to a new mobile phone contract.”
There’s nothing worse than being browbeaten and then hoodwinked.
Well, for Swiss jeweller Romain Jerome, the Titanic ship, which took 1,500 victims to their untimely deaths, means the chance to charge wealthy customers a small fortune for a little piece of history.
The Geneva-based jewellers have produced watches made from the salvaged hull of the Titantic, which has been blended with modern shipbuilding steel to make the casing of the timepieces.
The expensive watches, which range in price from £4,500 to £75,000, will be marketed under the tasteful name Titanic-DNA in a limited run of 2,012, a reference to the 100th anniversary of the disaster which is coming up in five years’ time.
Yvan Arpa, chief executive of Romain Jerome, says in the Mail: “We wanted to make a watch that had history and this is the rarest, most historical metal we could get hold of. The idea came to me when I visited a friend and he had a piece of the Berlin Wall on his mantelpiece. I wanted to incorporate that idea of owning history into a watch. This watch will give people the chance to carry a piece of history on their wrist.”
And a very heavy piece of history by the looks of things. One that could probably, rather ironically, drag you down to the bottom of the ocean.
Rumours that the company is also working on a diamond-encrusted executive toy made with the twisted remnants of the terracing from the Hillsborough disaster have yet to be confirmed.
WITH post offices closing, local shops usurped by supermarket giants, church attendances dropping and pubs turfing out their smoking clientele, Britons will probably find a better sense of community on Facebook than on their high streets.
The plan to close 2,500 rural post office branches in the next 18 months is set to have a devastating affect on small communities throughout the country and now it has been revealed that unhappy postmasters who speak out against the closures are being threatened with having their £60,000 compensation pay-outs rescinded.
The Mail also reveals that Post Office bosses told postmasters exactly how to answer questions from worried customers, warning that undercover staff are making sure they complied.
A letter sent out to postmasters says: “Representatives of Post Office Limited will visit branches at random, on an anonymous basis, to ensure these key messages are being delivered in an accurate and professional manner. Any compensation package offered to you if your branch is selected for closure shall be subject to you having complied, and continuing to comply, up to the date of closure.”
By the end of 2008, almost 40 per cent of all post offices open when New Labour came to power in 1997, will have been closed, reducing the number from 19,000 to approximately 11,800.
Postman Pat will be kicking his black and white cat.
MORE than £2,000 a second – that’s what the Iraq war is costing the US and the UK taxpayer. (Pic: Beau Bo D’Or)
It should make us all feel proud and honoured that our hard-earned cash is bringing freedom, prosperity and peace to the Iraqi people. But will we ever get so much as a “thank you”? I doubt it. The sheer cheek of some people!
Washington’s Congressional Budget Office has estimated that £250billion has been spent on combat operations in Iraq with the total increasing by an incredible £5billion every month. Britain is currently coughing up £80million a month, which despite looking quite paltry compared to the US figures, still works out at £31 a second.
Analysts in Washington claim that the war could eventually cost over £500billion and the Mail is quick to put his figure in perspective, saying that America recently pledged £18million to the UN refugee agency, an amount that would pay for less than three hours of military operations in Iraq.
John Spratt, chairman of the US House Budget Committee, says: “We’re actually spending more and more each year on the war. It’s an ominous indication the costs are continuing to rise.”
Let’s hope peace-loving Gordon Brown can get us out of this unholy mess. Oh, wait a sec, he was one of the guys who put us in it in the first place, wasn’t he?
THERE is annoyance to be found in the way health clubs tie you in to long-term contracts.
You’re paying for the use of their facilities, so surely you should be able to quit whenever you like – usually when you realise that you can only be bothered to go once a fortnight. Now energy companies have been given the green light to impose their own long-term contracts on us.
Regulating body Ofgem’s decision to remove the rule that ties a customer to an energy supplier for just four weeks has, not surprisingly, lead to fears that the big six energy providers will impose scary year-long minimum contracts on their customers.
Ofgem claim the restrictions have been removed in an effort to encourage the power companies to step up the introduction of energy efficiency measures and smart meters in their customers’ homes.
Said an Ofgem spokesman: “We see this as a very positive thing for consumers. We consulted widely on this issue and all the interested parties have agreed that its removal will stimulate future investment in energy efficiency measures.”
However, Joe Malinowski of switching website TheEnergyShop.com, is, understandably, unimpressed. Says he: “Everyone’s in favour of more energy efficiency measurers, but equally there’s now nothing to stop the power companies making all new customers sign up for a minimum of 12 months – regardless of whether they agree to such measures or not. Ofgem said this will increase competition but this could backfire on the regulator if it allows prices to stay high and reduces the number of people switching suppliers.”
Expect the energy companies to start cashing in straight away.
THE Sun reports that Harry Potter competition winners are selling their signed first editions of the new book on eBay for up to £3,000. 1,7000 copies of the book – Harry Potter and his Army of Sad Adult Fans – were signed by former Jamiroquai star JK Rowling for young fans who won a draw on publisher Bloomsbury’s website.
But now the books are appearing on the auction website.
Guilty sellers can expect a plague of newts or something to fall upon their houses. (No, I haven’t read any of the books.)
THE Mirror calls Derek Ladner “dopey”, however, one imagines that the lucky Lotto winner doesn’t really care what anyone calls him anymore.
The 57-year-old is no doubt celebrating at this very moment after winning a £1million double share of the jackpot after buying two winning lottery tickets.
The married father-of-one had bought a second ticket, using his usual numbers again, after simply forgetting that he had purchased one already. But that absent-mindedness proved incredibly lucky for Ladner when the £2.4million jackpot was split between five winning tickets, and he had two of them – worth £479,142 each.
Camelot said yesterday: “This chap has doubled his money after winning two shares of the jackpot. He is the first person to win twice in the same draw.”
Ladner, from Redruth in Cornwall, and his wife plan to spend part of their winnings on a luxury holiday and doing up their home.
A friend of the winner says: “We’re all going to rib him about being crowned Britain’s first bad memory lotto millionaire. He’ll never live it down.”
He might not live it down but he’ll probably be on the look-out for wittier friends.
THE airline may be Britain’s pride of the sky, but BA’s involvement in the recent price-fixing scandal will no doubt have damaged its global image as well as putting a dent in its bank balance.
The company has been hit with a record £121.5million fine by the Office of Fair Trading after admitting to price-fixing fuel charges on its long-haul flights. BA also faces more fines, this time from the US Department of Justice, which could see their total pay-out hitting the £350million mark.
According to the OFT, BA had colluded with Virgin Atlantic on at least six occasions between August 2004 and January 2006, during which time surcharges rose from £5 to £60 per ticket.
Virgin Atlantic, on the other hand, has been given immunity after it reported BA’s activity and is therefore not expected to be hit by a fine.
BA chief executive, Willie Walsh, says: “I want to reassure our passengers that they were not overcharged. Fuel surcharges are a legitimate way of recovering costs. However, this does not in any way excuse the anti competitive conduct by a very limited number of individuals within British Airways.”
A rise in surcharges from £5 to £60 in a year and a half hardly seems “legitimate” to me.
WITH the controversial Home Information Packs set to come into use this week, the Telegraph is claiming that the Labour Party and its members are set to make thousands of pounds from the introduction of the new scheme. (Pic: Beau Bo D’Or)
The paper says that the party has joined forced with a law firm and is set to offer discounted Hips for all its members, as part of its Labour Legal Services.
Labour’s website, which also offers discounts to members on will and accident compensation claims, says, “We are always working to bring our members and supporters the best offers on deals we think will interest them. These deals can benefit you, and help raise money for us.”
Not surprisingly, the opposition parties are less than impressed. Shadow housing minister, Grant Shapps, says, “At the time the Labour Party funding is under such scrutiny, and with debts of £25 million according to the electoral commission, it is alarming to hear they intend to raise money from the introduction of the misguided Hip.”
New Labour and dubious money-making schemes? Where have we heard that before?
DENISE van Outen’s big move to Hollywood may not have gone quite to plan, and now the former ladette is at the centre of an admittedly rather tiny storm over her new TV commercials for the Morrisons’ supermarket chain.
In the advert, the cheeky Cockney sparrow is seen enjoying tea and cake in the Sospan coffee shop before strolling down the road to the grocery giant’s local store.
However, many locals, with seemingly too much time on their hands, have pointed out that the café is in the North Wales village of Dolgellau, 30 miles from the nearest Morrisons.
Online forums across the web are apparently going crazy with protests from locals. What a deception!
Imagine if the BBC did adverts…
THOSE loving eyes, that unerring loyalty, that disgusting mess it does in the kitchen after eating last night’s curry leftovers – there is indeed something special about sharing your life with a dog (in a purely platonic way, of course). (Pic: Beau Bo D’Or)
However, for many of us go-getters, there just aren’t the hours in the day to feed, walk and groom. And that’s just ourselves, never mind the dog.
But now, a new craze is sweeping the certified home of crazes, California. Flexpetz is a new company which allows clients to rent a dog by the hour, which gives the part-time owner the chance to enjoy all the benefits of canine companionship without the hassle.
Members are charged an annual fee of £50, a monthly payment of £25 plus a per visit charge of £20 at weekends or £12 for weekdays. Dogs available include Afghan hounds, Labrador Retrievers and Boston Terriers.
Founder of the company, Marlena Cervantes, says: “Our members are responsible in that they realise full-time ownership is not an option for them and would be unfair to the dog. It prevents dogs from being adopted and then returned to the shelter by people who realise it isn’t a good fit.”
One wouldn’t be surprised if children became the next rentable commodity on the west Coast – “Too busy to be a full-time Parent? Well, for $50 an hour, you can experience the joy of being little Tommy’s Mommy or Daddy, without the hassle of the tantrums, the attention-deficit disorder or the eventual high-school massacre.”
WE join the action at the Central Criminal Court as one Barry Hibberd is denying being part of the six-strong gang that stole £1.75 million of goods in a raid on Heathrow warehouse on February 2004.
Mr Hibberd assures the court that he not a thief. He is a singer. He is charged with nine counts of possessing firearms with intent to endanger life, four of possessing ammunition without certificates, one of possessing a prohibited weapon and one of attempting grievous bodily harm with intent.
It’s a tough crowd, her honour. “I’m a singer, I’m a performer,” he assures one and all. Mr Hibberd was in number of bands. He can’t remember the names of them but they were in the arena of “commercial soul”, though a couple were “more rocky”. He made a “couple of dance records”.
He tells of his “high falsetto voice”. He does voice over work. He bows towards the microphone. He growls: “Some of them are there to hurt you, some of them are there to help you.”
The Times says this is, apparently, a line form the film Transformers. It might be comment on the audiences Mr Hibberd has performed for.
So he is no robber. “Of course I’m not; I’m a singer. I’ve never made any money from crime. Always working for a living. Never signed on.”
Mr Hibberd is delivering a bravura performance. He was 39 when he was locked up in Belmarsh prison. “They say life begins at 40,” he offers, “I hope it doesn’t in this case.”
Boom! Boom! Bang! Bang!
AS the quest to cover the whole of the country in motorways continues, eyebrows are being raised at the growing cost of the M6 widening project.
A 51-mile stretch of the motorway between Birmingham and Manchester is currently being widened to incorporate a new lane with the cost of the construction now estimated to eventually hit £2.9billion, or around £897 per inch, which will rise to over a grand when inflation is factored in.
In responding to criticism over the massive costs, Roger Bailey of engineering consultancy Faber Maunsell says: “In a greenfield site you are in control of your construction planning. But on a live road you have to work round more traffic.”
The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors point to the massive Olympic construction project as a reason behind by rising costs. A spokesman says: “There’s a lot of road building going on. The price of construction is going up because there is a lot of work around. Road building is an international market. In the last 10 years costs have gone up 7-9% a year.”
However, Rebecca Lush, a campaigner with Transport 2000, is understandably unimpressed. Says she: “This must be the most expensive roadworks in history. Britain is spending £13bn on new roads and next to nothing on reducing road traffic or railways. This is a complete waste of resources which will only increase the numbers of cars on the road and make climate change worse. £1,000 an inch is a scandal. The money should be put towards rail schemes or projects which would reduce climate change emissions rather than increase them.”
The UK is now one of the most car dependant countries in the world, with cars travelling 506 billion kilometres in Britain between 2005 and 2006, up 7 billion from the year before.
Still, with rail fares set to rise again, can you blame commuters for sticking with their cars?
IF you’ve got around £40,000 to spare and are a massive Star Wars fan, or simply have an urge to spend it on something completely impractical and quite silly, then either get yourself over to LA or simply log on to eBay, which is actually probably a lot easier to do.
Why? To bag yourself the original head of Chewbacca that’s why. Isn’t it obvious? The hairy costume piece which was worn by the towering 7ft 3in British actor Peter Mayhew in the original 1977 movie is being sold at auction in Los Angeles on August 3rd, although fans can also bid for it online on eBay.
Bidding starts at a sizeable £40,000 while an original Stormtroopers helmet will also be up for grabs for a cool £10,000.
I can see the bedroom scene now – her with her hair in Princess Leia plaits, him with the head of a wookie…. I think we should leave it there.
FORGET Facebooking, the biggest fad sweeping this great nation of ours is none other than fraud. From the phoney reasons for going to war, to cash-in-hand decorating jobs, everyone is at it.
According to research by accountants KPMG, more than 100 fraud cases came to court in the last six months, with a value of almost £600million.
Central to this fraud frenzy has been carousel or ‘missing trader’ frauds, where goods, often mobile phones, are imported into the country free of VAT, then sold on with the VAT included with the dodgy dealers then disappearing before they pass on the VAT to customs. These carousel frauds were worth a whopping £440million.
Professionals criminal were involved in one third of cases coming court at a total value of £538million or 91 per cent of the total value with ID thefts, fake bank cards and money laundering all rather popular.
Hitesh Paul of KPMG says: “The recent trend now looks unmistakable. The amount of fraud coming to court has undergone a step-change over the last couple of years, and these high levels look like they are here to stay. The good news is that more fraud is being detected and prosecuted in court. The bad news is that this is probably because more fraud is being committed.”
The report also focuses on the case of one organist who stole £150,000 from his church and a jailed City boy who proceeded to rip off fellow inmates to the tune of £160,000.
Good to see the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in Blair/Brown’s Britain.
HAMPSTEAD liberals will no doubt be sneering into their organic handmade Peruvian muesli this morning on learning that Argos, the chain of choice of the great unwashed, is planning to go upwardly mobile.
Having cornered the market in sovereign rings and cheap electricals, the chain now has its eye on the middle class John Lewis market. Swanky new Gaggia espresso machines and Dualit toasters grace the new Argos catalogue as the company looks to bring in the bourgeoisie.
However, according to the store’s chief executive, Sara Weller, the chain is not about to dump its traditional clientele. Says she: “We are not giving up our value heritage but believe we can do a good job at the top end of the market as well. In the past we haven’t had the product range for customers who have a bit more money to spend.”
On average, 17 million British households, around two-third of the population, have an Argos catalogue at home.
Expect to see these heavy tomes nestling between copies of the Guardian and guides to buying property in Tuscany.
WITH extortionate ticket prices, crowded carriages and those annoying ticket-checkers constantly interrupting our journeys, the country’s train companies are doing little to endear themselves to the great British commuting public. (Pic: Beau Bo D’Or)
And news that Britain’s biggest train company, South West Trains, has been exploiting the recent flooding will do little to improve the rail industry’s dismal public image.
According to the Times, the firm instructed guards and ticket office staff not to sell cheaper long-distance tickets via Oxford to passengers forced to take diversions due to the dreadful weather.
While it is standard rail industry practice to allow passengers travel via alternative routes without paying a further sum, South West Trains sent a message to staff on Wednesday telling them not to sell passengers the cheaper tickets via Oxford. Instead they were advised to sell the more expensive tickets which go via London.
When the Times initially questioned the train company, a spokesman said: “You have to pay to go via London because that’s the only route available. Anyone who turns up now to buy a ticket knows full well that there is disruption and that we are advising people not to travel. But if they want to travel they have to go via London and pay more. That’s the decision they have made.”
However an hour later, they phoned back to change their story, citing apparent ‘confusion’ over the issue and eventually offering to refund the difference for each passenger affected.
Makes you respect fare dodgers even more.
TRAVELLING with a budget airline can drive anyone to drugs, from the sub-human staff to the inevitable battle with fellow cheapskates for the best seats. and for one Martin Rose, the need for a cheeky ciggie proved too great and too costly.
The 36-year-old was on a Ryanair flight from Girona when the craving for his old friend Mr Nicotine grew too strong. Rose, of Cleveland, was initially warned by a stewardess after being spotted with a cigarette and lighter in his hand in the Boeing 737.
However, the renegade smoker still proceeded to lock himself in the loo and enjoy his illicit smoke. When a sated Rose eventually opened the door again, cabin crew noticed a haze of smoke as well as that distinct aroma wafting from the cubicle.
Prosecutor Justin Bullas told Doncaster’s Justice of the Peace: “The cubicle was searched, the smoke alarm was covered up with a napkin and the ash was in the sink.”
Ross was fined the maximum £2,500 plus £700 costs.
With those skills of deception, Ross shouldn’t expect a call from MI5 any day soon.
SCOTLAND’S First Minister, Alex Salmond, is claiming for £22,000 expenses for living in London, to the dismay of Scottish MPs.
Salmond stayed away from Westminster for nearly three months after his election as Holyrod but he is still claiming the full additional cost allowance.
The Lib Dems’ Alistair Carmichael says: “His constituents will expect, if he turns up in London only on high days and Edinburgh holidays, that will be reflected in much lower expenses.”
The donors of the items, which include a diamond tiara, paintings and vintage steamboats, subsequently receive tax concessions in their lifetimes in a scheme which many want to see the Government extend.
Mark Wood, chair of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, is pleased with the windfall.
Says he: “Overhaul of the tax framework around philanthropic giving is long overdue. There is no reason to hope that government can invest more in this area at a time of constraints on spending. We believe the climate is right for this debate, and we see growing support for it across the political spectrum.”
However, the chairman of the panel, Jonathan Scott, still believes that the acquisition funds are inadequate, considering the soaring prices in the art market. “If the creators of ‘new’ wealth are to be encouraged to fill the funding gap on behalf of our national institutions, their generosity needs to be stimulated by tax concessions,” he says.
So make sure you have a rummage through all that junk in your attic before you die. It just could help ease the tax burden you bequeath your survivors.
Although one suspects the museums won’t be interested in an original ZX Spectrum (48k) and a Charles and Diana novelty jigsaw.
IT’S reassuring to know that our hard earned cash has been spent on wining and dining the likes of Vernon Kay, Richard Madeley and June Sarpong. (Pic: The Spine)
The Government has details of the expenditure at Tony Blair’s former official country retreat of Chequers over the last 18 months of his reign, and while the house has been historically used to receive foreign dignitaries, diplomats and politicians, it seems that Tony’s obsession with celebrity has turned the venue into some kind of giant green room.
Other celebs who were invited to Chequers, no doubt to discuss the Middle-East peace process and the rise of left-wing politics in Latin America include GMTV presenters Fiona Phillips and Lorraine Kelly, Charlotte Church, Chris Evans and Kirsty Young.
Lib Dem frontbencher Norman Lamb, says: “Many of the names on this list reveal the frivolity and celebrity-obsessed nature of the Blair administration. However, it is absolutely staggering that it has taken so long to extract this information. For reasons that defy rational explanation, the Government has been treating the fact that Tony Blair enjoyed drinks with Vernon Kaye and Charlotte Church as a state secret.”
Nice to know your money is being spent wisely by the powers that be.
AS the illegal bank charges debacle rumbles on, news that the banks are resorting to scare tactics will come as little surprise, unfortunately.
According to a survey by the financial website thisismoney.co.uk, thousands of customers who have complained to their bank about illegal charges have been threatened with having their accounts closed.
More than one in eight people who has attempted to reclaim penalty fees for going overdrawn or breaching their overdraft limit has been told by their bank that they could have their account shut down. This behaviour by the banks rather goes against the principles laid down in the Banking Code, which state that banks must treat customers fairly when they are in financial trouble.
Andrew Oxlade, editor of thisismoney.co.uk, says: “Excessive bank charges have been imposed on millions of people across Britain and banks are now using all manner of underhand tactics to deter customers from reclaiming. We have seen all sorts of tricks – threatening to close accounts, charging yet more fees for old statements and dragging their heels when it comes to making a decision on a refund.”
The research also reveals that one in four people who complained to their banks won back the full amount they were claiming for. However, 17 per cent said that they had to wait over a year to receive their money.
While these dodgy charges are illegal, don’t expect anyone to end up in prison for the crime. It’s far easier to bang up shoplifting single mothers.