If there were a competition to identify the British city in which most money has been wasted in the last decade, Edinburgh would surely win. The new Scottish parliament building alone, finally completed in 2004, cost the taxpayer £414m, many times more than the initial estimates of £10m-£14m.
Now, as I discovered on a brief trip to Scotland last week, there is a new fiasco in the making.
The City of Edinburgh Council decided that Scotland's capital needs a tram service to supplement its buses and taxis and has so far spent £200m on the project. The total bill for completion, originally put at £512m, could end up being as much as £700m.
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Meanwhile, the finish date has already slipped from early 2011 to late 2012. Endless disputes and problems threaten to make it even later work was halted last week, for example, as the tram track contractor demanded an extra £80m to cover the cost of delays and Princes Street has now closed because of the work, and may remain closed until May.
Do the worthies of Edinburgh City Council ever read newspapers? Have they heard of the credit crunch? Why does Edinburgh need trams when most of us get by perfectly well without them?
What we can learn from Japan's CEOs
The row over Fred Goodwin's pension reminds us, if we need reminding, of the yawning gap between executive retirement packages and workers' pensions. When it comes to pay, the gap is just as big. Perhaps we should learn from the Japanese. On average in Japan, I learn from Lex in the FT, big-company executives earn about three times as much as the rank-and-file "comfortably within the four-fold ideal espoused by Plato two and a half millennia ago".
Compare that to the 39 times differential prevailing among FTSE 350 board members and employees. And even that is modest if we look across the Atlantic: America's left-leaning Institute for Policy Studies reckons CEOs in the US take home 344 times more than the average worker.
But it's not just pay. Japanese chief executives tend to wear off-the-rack suits and work from unimposing offices, says Lex. The head of Japan's biggest airline took a cut last year that put his wage packet just above that of the average Japan Airlines employee and half that of the cockpit crew. "He commutes to work by train and bus, and lunch is often a $5 teishoku at the canteen." Private jets are conspicuously absent.
Even in the boom years, says Lex, the behaviour of Japanese CEOs was more sleazy than grasping. "While John Thain, ex-chief of Merrill Lynch, spent £35,000 on a commode and former Tyco boss Dennis Kozlowski thought £15,000 a fair price for an umbrella stand, Japanese bank chiefs' main lapse of taste was to host finance ministry officials at no-pan shabu shabu, mirror-clad restaurants famous for their 'look but don't touch' knickerless waitresses."
Tabloid money the government's shocking neglect of our armed forces
If anything highlights "the sheer greed, incompetence and mismanagement of our money by this government", then it is a rundown south London estate I visited last week, says Jane Moore in The Sun. Most of the houses are boarded up and the gardens overgrown. "Damp is visible on external walls and the children's play area is filthy and poorly maintained." Yet, astonishingly, 15 of the 70 houses on this "virtual no man's land" are occupied by young families; even more shockingly, they are the loved ones of soldiers fighting for their country and "this is what passes for Army accommodation". Meanwhile, two miles down the Thames stands the vast, impressive MOD building, "which has recently undergone a multi-million refurbishment, including more than £900,000 on 3,150 office chairs at around £300 each. Obscene doesn't quite cover it."
The most shocking thing about the biggest bank robbery in Irish history, says Sue Carroll in the Daily Mirror, "isn't so much the nature of the heist the villains terrorised a bank worker at home and dispatched him to collect the cash but that they got away with £6m. What bank has that kind of cash these days? And where do they plan to invest it?"
Tony Blair Inc continues apace, says Fraser Nelson in the News of the World. His "latest gig" is setting up a company advising world leaders (starting with a £1m deal from Kuwait). Given things are going so well, might he now "hand back the £64k-a-year pension he's outrageously drawing from the taxpayer"?
A £200m satellite designed to measure climate change crashed into the sea last week. That's no big deal, says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. All it would have told us is that the world "is getting warmer. Blah blah." Global warmingists have told us for years they know what's going on. "So why, if they're so certain, did they need this satellite?"
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