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The forgotten fat cats

Britain’s royal family is the costliest monarchy in Europe by more than £100m – but it is seldom criticised for its excess

Recessions provoke criticism absent during the good times. Almost everyone tends to be more forgiving in a boom. Gordon Gecko’s “greed is good” 1980s philosophy was recycled by New Labour’s Peter Mandelson in 1997, announcing that the party was “intensely relaxed about people getting very rich” – the early 1990s recession had been forgotten.

Now, as we enter what may be merely the early stages of a more serious downturn, criticism may return with a vengeance.

Discontent is rising over Britain’s “boardroom bonanza” as executive pay soars while employees are expected to show restraint. Even a senior EU official labelled such high pay “a scourge” and in Germany, legislation now penalises companies with excessive pay differentials.

As inequality increases, some top UK executives now earn £10m-25m a year, but shareholders can check such excess if they wish, and there are signs of this happening. MPs have been criticised for profiting at public expense, financing and equipping second homes with taxpayers’ money, and the system now faces reform. However, this pales in comparison with senior business figures, and MPs’ pay falls well short of that of senior local authority executives and civil servants.

But haven’t we forgotten another tiny minority? A small group employed and subsidised at public expense, which owes its privileged public positions only to their birth; the Windsor family. In particular, the Queen and the Prince of Wales, who enjoy financial returns – official state incomes and accompanying benefits – that positively dwarf even those of the most expense-hungry MP.

Yet, curiously, we seem to overlook this privileged elite, often misunderstanding that their riches derive from the public purse. Elsewhere, it is a maxim that that those in public life should not benefit excessively from their positions. Yet the Queen grossed over £12.5m this year (£11.6m last year) from the Duchy of Lancaster. Few will have noticed the financial report published quietly on the Duchy’s site.

In June this year the Prince of Walesreceived over £16m from the Duchy of Cornwall, up £1m from 2007. These returns and other related perks have already generated parliamentary criticism.

Official expenses are met, and their wealth, helped by past tax exemptions, puts the majority of top corporate earners to shame. Many still believe such wealth is somehow necessary for the “honour” and “dignity” of their role.

It isn’t. Take £100m off their annual cost to the taxpayer and we’d still have the costliest monarchy in Europe. Ruritanian language used in connection with the royal family complicates and confuses. Official incomes for the monarch and the heir to the throne – the latter a position with no constitutionally defined role – derive from the Duchies, yet most people would be forgiven for not realising that these giant estates are in reality public properties. The income may be “private”, but that’s all, they are not personal fiefdoms.

As repossessions rise, banks quake and inflation bites, a sense of unfairness arises as it did in the early 1990s. MPs are forced to trim their privileges to retain public support. What of the Windsors? How much longer before their own fat-cat lifestyles face scrutiny?

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Church not ready for sexual abuse apology

Cardinal Marc Ouellet said the Roman Catholic Church is not prepared to apologize publicly for sexual abuse committed by priests because it’s not the right time.

The archbishop of Quebec City made the statement Thursday at the International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City after a small group of people protested outside the gathering, demanding the church acknowledge past abuses toward aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.

The week-long congress is not the proper venue for such discussions, Ouellet said at a news conference. “We are in spiritual reflection and renewal. I think that from what we are living, there will be concrete actions afterwards with other people, with other initiatives,” he said.

The group of protestors demanded Ouellet apologize to all aboriginal people abused at residential schools, and other people who suffered abuse from priests.

France Bédard, who was among the protesters, said she feels a moral obligation to speak up for others.

She said she was assaulted by a priest as a young woman and became pregnant, but never saw justice because he died before his trial.

“I have to do something for these poor people who don’t have the capacity” to fight back, because they are lost in a world of alcoholism, drug abuse or self-destructive behaviour, she said in French. The protesters would like to see the church set up a commission to recognize people who have been abused.

Ouellet said the church will be present at the federal Aboriginal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but any other discussions are inappropriate.


UK Monarchy costs us at least £150M says REPUBLIC

BBC NEWS reports the royals cost us £37M a year

Republic has today challenged Buckingham Palace to come clean on its
finances, due to be reported at the end of this month. For the past few
years the palace has attempted to distract people from the full cost of the
monarchy by talking in terms of ‘pence per person’.

Spokesperson Graham Smith said:

“The palace spin is that the monarchy costs a little over 61p per person.
This is a shameful piece of propaganda – no government department would get
away with justifying waste by dividing the cost by the entire British
population. By that logic MPs salaries and expenses can equally be
justified as costing us just £3 per person per year.”

“The palace will tell us that they cost around £37m a year, but this
ignores security costs, unpaid taxes and costs to local councils for royal
visits. The real figure is at least £150m a year.”

“The big question we need to ask the palace is ‘what’s not included?’
Royal security – much of it unnecessary – is estimated to cost over £100m
a year, royal visits around the UK can cost local councils as much as £60k
a trip.”

“Comparable European presidents cost as little as £1.5m a year.”

NOTES

Full details of our calculations can be found at
http://www.republic.org.uk/royalcosts

A visit to Romsey by the Queen last year cost the Romsey Town Council more
than £58,000, including £5000 spent on a new toilet for the Queen.

Total salary and expenses bill for 646 MPs is £155m a year, compared to
£150m a year for 15 working royals.

The Crown Estates do not offset the cost of the monarchy as the Crown
Estates would remain state property if the monarchy were abolished. It is
not the property of the Windsor family – see
http://www.republic.org.uk/royalcosts for details.


How a child prodigy at Oxford became a £130-an-hour prostitute

With the intellect to win a place at Oxford at the age of 13, Sufiah Yusof should, by now, be carving out a high-flying career for herself.

But a decade after hitting the headlines thanks to her remarkable aptitude for mathematics – and days after her father was jailed for sexually assaulting two teenagers – Miss Yusof has been exposed as a £130-an-hour prostitute.

The revelation completes a sad fall from grace for the family who were hailed the brightest in Britain after Miss Yusof and two of her siblings won university places by the time they were 16.

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sufiah yusof1997: Sufiah on her first day at Oxford with her father and sister Aisha

Calling herself Shilpa Lee, 23-year-old Miss Yusof advertises her body on an internet sex site and operates out of a back street flat in Salford. Yesterday, a friend of the former child prodigy said of her downfall: “It is all desperately heartbreaking.

“With her amazing brain she should be able to make money any way she wants. But instead her life spiralled completely out of control.

“Sufiah has suffered so many knocks in her life. I just hope she can drag herself out of this life she has got herself into.

“She is such a good person and deserves a much better life than this. Her gift really has been a curse.”

On the website, she describes herself as a ‘”very pretty size 8, 32D bust and 5ft 5in tall – available for booking every day from 11am to 8pm”.

sufiah yusof2004: She marries Jonathan Marshall

She adds that she is a “sexy, smart student” who prefers “older gentlemen”. When an undercover reporter visited her at the flat, Miss Yusof stripped naked and gyrated on a bed as she reeled off her list of services.

Miss Yusof was pictured as a child smiling innocently outside St Hilda’s College, Oxford, after winning her place to study maths in 1997. But she ran away three years later, aged 15, claiming her parents had placed her under intolerable pressure to succeed.

She was found by police 12 days later working as a waitress at a Bournemouth internet cafe but refused to return to her parents, who had given up their jobs to educate their five children at home.

Miss Yusof was taken in by a foster family and shortly afterwards sent a searing email to her parents, documenting the “living hell” she said her father – a private tutor – had created.

She wrote: “I’ve finally had enough of 15 years of physical and emotional abuse.”

She accused her “controlling and bullying” father of forcing her to work in the cold to aid concentration and added that she never wanted to see him again.

In 2004, she married trainee lawyer Jonathan Marshall, but the couple divorced 13 months later.

In January, the Daily Mail revealed that her father Farooq had been remanded in custody after admitting sexually assaulting two girls, both aged 15.

Appearing under his real surname of Khan, he was jailed for 18 months at Coventry Crown Court last week after a judge heard how he had groped the two girls when he was home tutoring them at maths.

He had previously been jailed for three years in 1992 for his part in a £1.5million mortgage swindle involving several family members.

Yesterday the News of the World described how Miss Yusof was armed with three mobile phones as she welcomed an undercover reporter who was posing as a client at her flat.

The once strict Muslim stripped out of her tiny skirt, leather boots, tight T- shirt and red matching underwear as she detailed her £130-an-hour rate.

She claimed to be studying for a masters degree in economics on a part-time two-year course in London and added: “I’ve got exams coming up and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God!’.”

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Sufiah advertised her services on the internet (picture posed by model)

Yesterday, her mother, Halimahton, 51, a scientist, said she had no idea her daughter was working as a prostitute.

Speaking from her home in Coventry, Mrs Yusof said: “I didn’t know anything about that. I am not in touch with Sufiah any more. I have got no comment.”

Miss Yusof’s brother, Iskander, aged 12, and sister Aisha, 16, started at Warwick University in 1998, making them the youngest brother and sister to study together at university at the time.


How shoppers ‘are blinded by shoddy science of firms

The scientific claims used to sell a wide range of products to health-conscious customers were exposed as dubious or unfounded yesterday. A group of young scientists and researchers contacted manufacturers’ customer care lines to challenge the claims made for 11 products or brands from sandwiches and yoghurt to health spa accessories and Himalayan salt lamps.

In the report, called There Goes The Science Bit, they describe how staff were often unable to back up the sales pitches.

Many callers were referred up the chain of command, even to managing director level, without being offered a satisfactory response.

The research was funded and published by Sense About Science, an independent charitable trust which promotes better public understanding of science.

One of the companies targeted was sandwich chain Pret a Manger, which claims it does not use ‘obscure chemicals’.

It told the report’s authors: ‘We don’t use any chemicals to preserve, or to avoid any insects . . . it’s all natural.’

Alice Tuff, of Sense About Science, said she was ‘frustrated’ by the mistaken belief that a naturally derived chemical is better than a synthetic one, when there is no difference.

Pret a Manger says it avoids compounds such as sodium benzoate and minimises use of food additives tagged as E numbers.

However sodium benzoate occurs naturally in apples and cranberries, and Sense About Science says the company uses E250 (sodium nitrite) and E500 (an ingredient of baking powder). Jay Chapman, the firm’s marketing manager, said: ‘It is impossible to avoid all chemicals and E numbers. We don’t say that we don’t use them at all but that we avoid them if possible.’

The report also singles out Nestlé’s Ski Activ8 yoghurt, marketed as a ‘unique blend of eight B vitamins and minerals, each proven to optimise the release of energy from our diet’.

On its website the company says ‘combined with a healthy diet, lifestyle and exercise, a diet which includes Ski Activ8 can help recharge our batteries’. The company seems to be referring to B vitamins binding to enzymes and so speeding up chemical reactions in the body’s cells, but, according to Sense About Science, if you already get sufficient vitamins these would not have any effect – they would just be excreted.

When the SAS caller contacted Nestlé, he was transferred to Ski’s nutritionist, who conceded the point.

A spokesman for the company said the yoghurt provides ‘vitamins and minerals involved in the body’s energy-producing cycles’ and may benefit anyone lacking ‘important B vitamins and minerals’ needed to release energy from our food.

Other companies highlighted in the report included supermarket chains Sainsbury’s and Co-op, which were both accused of manipulating science to justify changes to product content. The 2001 medicine Nobel prize winner Sir Paul Nurse applauded the Sense About Science report, saying producers’ and retailers’ lack of science had been ‘mercilessly exposed’ by intelligent scientists prepared to spend time ‘unmasking the empty pseudoscience’ of the claims.

Peter Atkins, chemistry professor at Oxford University, said: ‘The public is well served by scientists prepared to spend time exposing scientific nonsense . . . they should be applauded for acting as warriors against claptrap.’