INDEPENDENT 2024-03-08 10:04:00


Liz Truss spent £15,000 of taxpayer money on catering during flight

Former prime minister Liz Truss spent more than £15,000 on in-flight catering on a single flight to Australia while she was foreign secretary.

As revealed in a freedom of information response to the Labour Party, British taxpayers paid more than £1,400 per head for 12 government officials on a single trip to Australia.

Catering for the Australia flights in January 2022 cost £15,639 in total, which was 3.4 per cent of the total £454,626.59 cost of the tickets, Politico reported.

The government said the sums also include wider logistics of running a private aeroplane, such as catering equipment, as well as food and drink.

A spokesperson for Ms Truss told The Independent: “Liz had many responsibilities as foreign secretary, but it ought to be self-evident that organising the in-flight catering on overseas trips was not among them.”

Catering for Ms Truss’ South East Asia trip in November 2021 totalled £12,742, which was 4.2 per cent of the overall £300,545.39 flight cost. Another visit to Indonesia in the summer of 2022 cost £5,604 in in-flight catering, which was £431 per head and 1.5 per cent of the total £369,000 cost.

Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry said the figures showed ministers were “determined to have their hugely expensive cake and eat it”.

She added politicians were “booking planes which are for them and them alone, ignoring the burden on the taxpayer, and indifferent to the cost of living crisis facing the rest of the country”.

The Mail on Sunday reported last year that Ms Truss was contesting a £12,000 government bill relating to her use of the grace-and-favour country house at the Chevening estate that she had access to as foreign secretary.

Leaked correspondence, revealed by The Sunday Times, disclosed that Ms Truss in 2022 had requested taxpayers’ cash for a £3,000 lunch at a private club owned by a Tory donor, overruling her officials’ advice to go somewhere more suitable.

The freedom of information data released on Thursday also showed the in-flight catering bill for Ms Truss’ predecessor Dominic Raab came to £6,215 during a trip to Indonesia and Brunei in April 2021, and £7,625 for a visit to Singapore, Vietnam and Cambodia in June of that year.

Meanwhile, catering for flights to Japan, South Korea and Singapore made by Ms Truss’ successor James Cleverly amounted to £14,900 — almost 4 per cent of the overall £384,160 flight cost.

A government spokesperson said: “The figures shown represent the end-to-end cost of providing in-flight catering, including transport, on-boarding/off-boarding, preparation, disposal in line with adherence to international waste management regulations, and the required equipment for these processes. These logistical elements make up most of the cost and are charged by the vendor regardless of the specific items ordered or consumed.

“Catering in-flight is a monopoly for the vendor and these costs would also be accrued on scheduled commercial flights. However, they are contained within the wider ‘all-inclusive’ booking fee and not broken down separately.

“Therefore the figures shown should not be conflated as actual expenditure on food or drink. The substantive costs will relate to the transfer of associated catering equipment, in the same way for example that a proportion of the cost of a commercial flight will include charges for the transport of hold luggage (whether itemised or inclusive).”

They added the flight costs are in line with past precedent for all political parties.

Ms Thornberry claimed private flights had become “the default option for ministers to do their overseas travel”, adding: “If they are determined to ignore the ministerial code by opting for government planes when commercial flights are available, the least they should be doing is taking along media or business delegations to help subsidize the cost.”

Rupert Murdoch engaged for the sixth time aged 92

Rupert Murdoch is engaged again at the age of 92.

The media titan will marry Elena Zhukova, 67, in June with invitations already sent out, his team has confirmed.

Mr Murdoch is believed to have been dating the retired Russian molecular biologist for several months.

The Australian-born media tycoon, who stood down as chairman of Fox and News Corp last year, has been married four times.

His engagement to former police chaplain Ann Lesley Smith was called off just two weeks after being announced in April 2023.

Mr Murdoch married his first wife, former flight attendant Patricia Booker, in 1956 and the couple had one daughter, Prudence.

After their divorce 11 years later, his second marriage to Anna Torv, a trainee journalist he met while she was working on one of his Australian titles, lasted more than 30 years.

At various times, each of their three adult children – Elisabeth, Lachlan and James – appeared to have been in line to inherit his mantle.

Mr Murdoch had two further children – daughters Grace and Chloe – by his third wife Wendi Deng, who he married in 1999, just three weeks after he divorced Anna.

In 2016 Mr Murdoch surprised the world by marrying former model Jerry Hall – an ex-partner of Rolling Stones singer Sir Mick Jagger with whom she had four children. The marriage lasted six years before they too divorced.

Mr Murdoch’s media empire, which started in Australia in the 1950s, included buying the News Of The World and The Sun in 1969, the New York Post, Wall Street Journal and TV channel Fox News, which was launched in 1996.

Palace speaks out on Kate health rumours

The palace has spoken out on rumours surrounding Kate Middleton’s health following her temporary absence from the public eye as she recovers from abdominal surgery.

As the Princess of Wales takes time away from her royal duties, rumours and unfounded conspiracy theories have gained traction online.

Referring to her husband Prince William, a royal spokesperson told People magazine: “His focus is on his work and not on social media.”

The remarks come as Kate’s uncle, Gary Goldsmith, was criticised by royal commentator Rupert Bell for “throwing more spotlight on her”.

Addressing the speculation over his niece’s health in the Celebrity Big Brother house, Mr Goldsmith told fellow contestants: “I spoke to her mum, she’s getting the best care in the world.” And when asked if the Princess would be back, he responded: “She’s amazing, she will be back, of course she will.”

On Tuesday, the 58-year-old businessman launched the first of several attacks on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

He first said the Duke of Sussex could not “throw [his] family under the bus” referring to his memoir Spare and “expect to be invited round for Christmas”. Then he said the Duchess of Sussex’s entrance into the royal family had brought an extra dynamic that “puts a stick in the spokes and creates so much drama”.

Taste test gives shock result for best caterpillar cake – and it’s not Colin

A caterpillar cake taste test has sent shockwaves across the industry as Marks and Spencer’s original Colin was knocked off the top spot.

A Which? blind taste test of caterpillar cakes from eight supermarkets found Co-op’s Charlie, costing £8 for 660g, to be the finest, awarding it a 72% score and the watchdog’s coveted “Best Buy” recommendation.

In surprise news to some, the Co-op won with its “ultimate combination” of chocolate, sponge and buttercream.

Coming in a close second was M&S’s Colin at £8.50 for 625g, achieving a 71% and a “Best Buy” recommendation, beating most of its rivals with its “superior sponge and delicious chocolatey flavour”.

However, the result will be a bitter blow for M&S, whose Colin cake has been widely copied by rival grocers.

M&S took Aldi to court for what became a long-running legal dispute in which the former accused the discounter of copying Colin with its “Cuthbert” product.

An undisclosed settlement eventually reached by the two grocers did not deter Aldi from going on to release an ad in which it announced it was “like M&S, only cheaper”, and showing rival caterpillar cakes Cuthbert and Colin breaking into a scuffle at a party.

Morrisons’ Morris the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 624g) received a score of 70%, with testers finding its sponge “a little disappointing”.

Tying in third place with Morrisons was Sainsbury’s, whose Wiggles the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 627g) lacked “much-needed moistness”, while nearly a third of tasters thought the chocolate shell was too thin.

Waitrose scored 69% for its Cecil the Caterpillar Cake (£8.50 for 720g), and while tasters were satisfied with the strength of chocolate flavour, sweetness and thickness of the chocolate shell, almost half felt there was too much sponge compared with buttercream.

Aldi’s Cuthbert, the cheapest option at £5.49 for 625g, could only achieve 68%, with nearly half of tasters finding the sponge too dry, although Which? Noted it was not a bad choice for a budget birthday cake.

Tying with Aldi’s score was Tesco’s Slinky the Caterpillar Cake (£7.50 for 648g), with tasters finding it “too dry” and lacking buttercream.

Asda’s Letty (£7.50 for 615g) came last with a score of 67% after tasters were concerned about its weak chocolate flavour and dry sponge.

Which? head of home products and services Natalie Hitchins said: “For a lot of us, a caterpillar cake is a must for a birthday or celebration. Our test results show you don’t have to go out of your way to get the best, or splash too much cash.

“Our panel rated Co-op as our highest scoring caterpillar cake overall. As well as being budget-friendly, Co-op’s Charlie the Caterpillar had a rich chocolate flavour and plentiful amount of buttercream.

“The scores across the board were quite close, so you can’t go too far wrong with a caterpillar cake, but if you want the best, we advise you to head to Co-op or M&S.”

Creator of iconic Dragon Ball manga Akira Toriyama dies aged 68

Japanese artist Akira Toriyama, known for the hugely popular Dragon Ball comics, has died at the age of 68.

Toriyama died on 1 March after suffering acute subdural hematoma, a type of bleeding near the brain, his studio said on Friday.

“We are deeply saddened to inform you that Manga creator Akira Toriyama passed away on 1 March due to acute subdural hematoma,” said a statement shared on the official X account of the Dragon Ball franchise.

“It’s our deep regret that he still had several works in the middle of creation with great enthusiasm,” Toriyama’s Bird Studio said.

“We hope that Akira Toriyama’s unique world of creation continues to be loved by everyone for a long time to come.”

Dragon Ball was first released in 1984 in the weekly Shonen Jump magazine and became one of the most iconic franchises in the history of manga and anime. It was translated into many different languages and published globally, loved by fans for its action-packed battles, colourful characters, and elements of humour and adventure.

Its legacy includes numerous anime spin-off series, films and video games. Its latest franchise, a new anime called “Dragon Ball Daima” is set to be released this fall after it was announced in October 2023.

Fans and friends from across the world reacted to the news with shock and sorrow, describing how his iconic work was part of their childhood.

Masashi Kishimoto, author of another manga series Naruto, said, “I grew up with your manga, which became a part of my life. On bad days, the weekly Dragon Ball [series] would help me forget [my troubles]. As a country boy with not much else, it saved me.

“… I just received the news of your passing. I’m hit with a tremendous sense of loss, even greater than when Dragon Ball ended. … I still don’t know how I am going to deal with this [sudden] hole in my heart,” it added.

Eiichiro Oda, the One Piece manga artist, wrote, “[Toriyama] was one of the founders of an era where both adults and children could read and enjoy manga, from a time when reading manga was considered not good for education. He let us dream of the extent of things manga can achieve and showed [creators] that we can even expand our field to the world.

“To think I’ll never see him again… I’m overwhelmed by sadness,” Mr Oda said.

Another fan wrote: “Akira Toriyama gave us some of the most timeless anime moments of all time.”

“Heartbreaking that Toriyama passed before Dragon Ball Daima releases, which he was clearly so passionate about. If it’s the last project he worked on, I’ll treasure it even more,” said another.

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

Could anti-Trump Republicans block his way back to the White House?

One of the most startling impressions from the past week has been the extent to which it now seems to be accepted, on both sides of the Atlantic, that Donald Trump is certain to be the Republican nominee for president – and almost as certain to be back in the White House this time next year. A reasonable response to all this certainty might be: “Steady on…”

It is true that Trump has so far enjoyed one of the smoothest rides to a presidential nomination on the part of any challenger in recent memory. Nikki Haley, his only rival after the Iowa caucuses, won only two contests, in Vermont and Washington DC, before suspending her campaign. She even lost in her home state of South Carolina, where she had been governor, which was hardly a promising prelude to a presidential run. She leaves Trump now with a clear run to become the Republican Party’s nominee.

Trump’s campaign was also given an unexpected boost – unexpected by timing rather than content – when the Supreme Court upheld his appeal against being excluded from primary contests in individual states. The ruling, which was handed down on the day before so-called Super Tuesday, with primaries in 15 states and one territory, was unanimous. The specific state concerned in the case was Colorado, but Maine had followed in announcing a ban on Trump contesting its primary, and other states had been expected to follow suit.

‘The Kremlin tried to recruit me – then I had to flee for my safety’

When the chief rabbi of Moscow was summoned by Putin’s FSB agents to Sadovnicheskaya Street police station in 2003, they had one goal: to turn him into a Russian agent.

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, who had been chief rabbi for the previous decade, was able to resist the Russian state in their efforts to turn him. But when Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, his time was up.

Having refused to endorse the war, Rabbi Goldschmidt fled, first to Hungary and then Israel, urging other Jewish people to leave Russia while they could. He was designated a “foreign agent” by the Kremlin for his criticism of Putin, whose rise he had witnessed at close quarters.