Values for our money: Riled by the Royals on tour

 

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On Friday, Clarence House's Instagram account posted a picture of Prince Harry with an adorable-looking eight-month-old boy, Matias Gonzales Torres, in a kindergarten in Santiago, Chile. The fourth in line to the throne also attended a wreath-laying ceremony in the South American country. Earlier in the week, he had spent time at a football project for disadvantaged youngsters and a children's hospital in Brazil.

All of this activity is very admirable in a young man who is usually more prone to parties than parades. Yet when we learn that Harry also found time to watch England's final group World Cup match against Costa Rica, why does it feel like our tail is being tweaked, our chain pulled, our shoulder chomped?

Last week, the Royal Household published its accounts. There are two ways to look at what they revealed: first, that the cost to the taxpayer of keeping the Royal Family in the manner to which they are accustomed has risen by 6 per cent in a year, twice the rate of inflation; that the cost of upkeep of the palaces has soared by a whopping 45 per cent, including revamping the Kensington Palace apartments of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, complete with two kitchens. The second way to look at it is that the Royals are costing you and me just 56p each a year, and given the amount of tourism they attract and what this must bring to the economy, this is actually excellent value for money.

I am not an ardent royalist, but I have tended to look at this perennial story in the second way – 56p a year is not a lot, and the royals do add to our national interest. But when I see Prince Harry enjoying a World Cup freebie at our expense, it does seem that his trips to the schools, hospitals and charities that are wrapped in as part of the package are a little bit cynical.

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Harry and Prince William, as he was then, visited projects for their charities, the Tusk Trust and Sentebale, before soaking up lavish hospitality at an England match. I am in no doubt that the two young royals are passionately committed to the charity work they do. But to someone like me, who feels generally relaxed about the cost of the royals, it is starting to jar that this awareness-raising charity work is tagged on to the best freebies around. The royals may be cheap, but they should also set the right tone – and this isn't it. If they were "fact-finding" MPs on some Commons committee, we'd be outraged.

Next month is Prince George's first birthday, an opportunity for the nation to divide between strident monarchism and republicanism. Perhaps it can also be a moment for the Royal Family to reflect on whether they are really striving to live up to the high standards that the phrase "value for money" demands.

Growth requires roots

This week, the Labour party will attempt to shift focus from David Cameron's European calamity on to the economy, and how the would-be government would rebalance growth away from London's powerhouse into the regions. Lord Adonis's growth review for Labour will be published on Tuesday, and will recommend that £6bn of Whitehall spending is distributed to the regions, three times the current coalition's amount.

It is not enough to have enthusiastic, Boris Johnson-like mayors – as George Osborne advocated last week – to champion their own cities. It needs money, yes, but also a more strategic transport infrastructure – and not just HS2. Cities like Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds need to become specialist economic powerhouses in their own right, just as (admittedly on a bigger scale) the US has New York, LA and Washington with their differing specialties.

Adonis's report will back the continuation of Local Enterprise Partnerships, but this cannot be the same bureaucracy of the same officials spending more money. Ironically, to truly achieve devolution in England, it needs a central, national strategy.

A right to remember?

Last week, Google started removing links to individuals who now, under EU law, have the "right to be forgotten" and want their past to be stripped from the search engine. The new law is, I believe, a dangerously retrograde step and the start of official censorship.

Among those who have requested "take-downs" are said to include a former MP who wants something from their past removed so they can present themselves, box-fresh, to the electorate. This is outrageous. However, I understand that the European Commission is looking at the issue and may come up with a new law, some years down the line, which holds out the prospect of reform.

Gender breakthrough

Alarmed at the extent of gender-specific toys on the market, ministers have met retailers and manufacturers to discuss how to make all toys appealing to both sexes.

There is clearly a link between the sort of things girls are encouraged to play with at a young age and the shortage of women in the Stem – science, technology, engineering and maths – sectors. But there was a beacon of hope for women in science last week: 21-year-old Jo Armstead, a medical student at Newcastle University, who made a breakthrough in research for the treatment of cystic fibrosis while on work experience at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester. I wonder what toys she played with.

Words from the helmsman

The Lib Dems are advertising for a General Election project manager, salary £35,000-£45,000 (depending on experience of hopeless causes). OK, I am being a little bit unfair. But I notice that the successful individual will attend "both executive and full General Election Committee ("Wheelhouse") meetings". What can that possibly be? Well, it turns out that Paddy Ashdown is the party's general election campaign manager, and he once quoted Mark Twain's observation of a sign in the wheelhouse of the Mississippi paddle boats which read: "Don't speak to the helmsman – don't spit on the floor." Ashdown added: "It's a good motto for ex-leaders."

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