Work for your pension? That’s a bit rich, my Lord

Our diarist notes the curious perspective of a senior Whitehall mandarin, has an update on the outspoken Nadine Dorries, and offers a reminder of Conrad Black's taste
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Michael Bichard, who was once one of Whitehall’s most senior civil servants, thinks that pensioners should be on workfare. He did not put it quite like that, but that is what he meant. Workfare is a system pioneered in the USA, under which people on welfare are obliged to make a contribution to society to qualify for their benefits. “Are we using all of the incentives at our disposal to encourage older people not just to be a negative burden on the state but actually be a positive part of society?” Lord Bichard asked fellow members of a committee investigating the impact on public services of an ageing population.

Saga’s boss, Dr Ros Altmann thinks that this proposal is “social engineering of a dangerous kind”. It implies, she suggested, that when you reach the recognised retirement age, “civil servants should assess you and decide whether you are fit to be assigned to do work that they decide you should do”. She added: “The idea undermines the concept of ‘volunteering’ altogether, because if you have to do it in order to get your full pension, it is just another kind of paid work.”

Four years ago, the pension arrangements of people like Lord Bichard were analysed. It was found that their average pension pot was worth just under £850,000. It’s a bit rich for him to be thinking that someone on a state pension of around £5,300 a year is a “negative burden”.

Revenge doesn’t hang well on Ms Dorries

“Nobody wrongs me and doesn’t pay for it,” the Tory MP Nadine Dorries told, as she fired another barrage of accusations against George Osborne and David Cameron. There was nothing quite as quotable as when she called them “two arrogant posh boys” last April, but in this latest interview she managed to call Osborne a “pernicious influence”, and to forecast that Cameron will face a leadership challenge before 2015. Ms Dorries is angry that the two leading members of the Cabinet thwarted her attempt to get the time limit for abortions reduced, but she devalues herself by letting on that her motive is revenge.

End of paper trail for Lord Black’s ambitions

Lord Black of Crossharbour, back in London after doing time in a Florida jail, sounded cross when Jeremy Paxman suggested he had taken to crime because he aspired to a lifestyle that he could not afford. Well his lordship certainly had dreams of opulence, as he revealed when he wrote to author Dominic Shelmerdine in 2001, saying he had had an ambition to “live in a house as grand and filled with valuable objects as William Randolph Hearst’s” Castle, in California, that had 56 bedrooms.

The letter is in a book called My Original Ambition: Letters from Persons of Consequence, which exists in hardback only. Shelmerdine tells me this hopes for a paperback reprint have hit a serious snag because one of the other contributors was Jimmy Savile.

Report on late trains arrives... er... late

Three years ago, the Department of Transport hired an analyst named John Bates to report on why trains are late. He handed in his report, Stocktake of Travel Time Variability, on 2 November 2010. It cost £11,384.60 and according to an answer given to a question in the House of Lords yesterday “no specific action follows its publication, but it will inform any future consideration of reliability analysis.”

It did not influence the ill-fated decision to take the West Coast franchise away from Virgin – because, you see, it did not get published in time. It was published “as soon as it was feasible” – on 24 September 2012, to be precise, nearly two years after it was written. I expect it was the wrong sort of printer’s ink.