Eat, drink and be merry - Clarke leaves a high-rolling Home Office

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The Independent Online

Charles Clarke has been condemned for presiding over one of the most incompetent Home Offices in history.

This week, as he makes his way to the back benches, Clarke may well also have left in his wake one of the most profligate.

Last week, the Tory MP Theresa Villiers tabled a written question to Clarke which asked how much money had been spent each year by the Home Office on refreshments since 1997.

In response, Clarke stated that, according to the most recent figure, by the end of 2004 it had reached just over £1m.

It's a staggering sum, not least because figures state that when New Labour came to power in 1997, the amount spent was just over the £300,000-a-year mark.

"Nowadays it seems it's a case of eat, drink, and be merry at the Home Office," says Villiers.

"I'm disappointed I wasn't given a more up-to-date figure, but, after their recent woes, who knows what they'll have spent this year.

"I am very concerned that, having got by on 300-odd thousand in 1997, the Home Office is now spending over a million.

"To use another cooking analogy, I'm sure there's plenty of fat that can be trimmed."

The expenditure will be presented by critics as further proof of New Labour's taste for the high life, though the Home Office claims: "The rise in expenditure reflects an increase in training courses and implementation of new policies and systems."

Brocket revs up for vintage Sky show

Lord Brocket's journey from aristocrat to reality TV superstar began in 1996, when he was jailed for a £4.3m insurance fraud.

The entrepreneurial toff had buried a collection of antique sports cars in the grounds of his Buckinghamshire family seat, before claiming they'd been pinched.

Ten years on, and Brocket is once again cashing in on his expert knowledge of the classic car industry.

He is to host a new motoring programme on Sky TV, billed, ironically, as a Top Gear for vintage cars.

"It's all at a very early stage, but they e-mailed to ask if I'd be interested in making a pilot, and I said that of course I would," he tells me. "There aren't enough good shows about classic motors."

Only time will tell if Brocket - speaking at last week's Maxim VC poker tournament - will advise viewers on insurance.

Blanc backed in 'morons' jibe

Raymond Blanc recently emerged from his Oxfordshire bolt-hole, Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, to denounce the British public as "morons".

Blanc was launching an attack against the number of cookery programmes which featured swearing and abusive chefs.

"We have eight million morons watching these programmes," he said. "The brains of the British have gone soft."

But far from trying to distance himself from the comments, Blanc told Pandora at a recent cocktail party: Je ne regrette rien.

"Not at all, in fact I've received about 20 letters from people who have written to say how much they agree with me," he said.

"These shows have done such irreparable damage to the industry."

Ace arts idea

As Charles Saatchi scours the land in search of the next thing in British art, he could do worse than look for pointers from his ex-wife, Kay Hartenstein.

Kay - who divorced Saatchi after he eloped with Nigella Lawson in 2001 - is in the process of setting up a project to help young artists find buyers for their work.

"It's called ACE which stands for the Artist and Collectors Exchange," she tells me.

"It'll be aimed at people who are just starting out looking to get their first break.

"Art is my life so it's just great to be involved again."

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