`Lottery regulator Peter Davis could have bought a six-journey pass on Delta Airlines for his US foray. It would have cost the taxpayer pounds 515'

Simon Calder
Tuesday 06 October 2015 10:32

In a Yuletide spirit of generosity, I would like to offer some advice to Peter Davis - the man whose job it is to regulate the National Lottery. Mr Davis's liberal enjoyment of free flights on a business trip around the US, courtesy of a shareholder in Camelot and against the express wishes of the Department of National Heritage, created a chorus of demands for his resignation. And all because he wanted to save taxpayers' money.

Next time Mr Davis has business in the Land of the Free(bie), I suggest he takes advantage of the excellent-value airpasses offered by US airlines to UK travellers. Instead of taking a series of free flights aboard GTech's corporate jet, Mr Davis could have bought a six-coupon airpass on Delta Airlines. This allows the same itinerary as Mr Davis enjoyed - Dallas, Austin, Tallahassee, Atlanta, New York and Boston - yet would cost the taxpayer just pounds 515.

Business travellers like Mr Davis might counter that they need the sort of flexibility you get only with full-fare tickets on scheduled airlines (or, indeed, a private jet). Fortunately, Delta's airpass is a fairly flexible friend. After the first sector, there is no penalty for changing your flights as often as you wish. You can't do that with lottery numbers.

Which leaves the transatlantic stretch. The rock-bottom fare is about pounds 200 on Air India, but given Mr Davis's professional interest in gaming, it seems appropriate to choose an airline that offers inflight betting. I asked a North American fares expert, Jim Green of Quest Worldwide, to come up with a tempting deal for the lottery regulator. He can offer a London-Boston return on Virgin Atlantic for pounds 249, including Air Passenger Duty (so the poor taxpayer at least gets some tax back). Mr Davis would be able to indulge in the seatback gambling available on all of Richard Branson's planes.

Aside from any stake money, the whole trip would cost the taxpayer under pounds 800 - considerably less than the cost of Mr Davis's transatlantic flights alone. Aboard Virgin, Mr Davis would also be able to sup as much Christmas cheer as he wishes, thanks to the free drinks policy. Now that's the sort of festive freebie I would be happy to accept.

As Britain's railways wind down for their annual Christmas break, Thomas Almond of Bath writes with an update on the "ghost train" between Waterloo and the West. "After reading your article, I decided to book on the Bath to Waterloo express for my Christmas visit to London - the chance of a near-empty train at this time of year seemed too good to miss." Mr Almond called the Rail Direct booking line (0800 450450) to book, stressing he wanted the Waterloo train rather than the usual Paddington service. He was duly assured he would reach his chosen Waterloo.

"Imagine my surprise when a ticket arrived for the train to Paddington. I phoned to query it, and was told there were no trains to Waterloo. Is this all part of a pre-privatisation conspiracy? If they deny the existence of a train now, presumably they're not obliged to run the service after the sell-off".

Reluctantly, Mr Almond set out to catch the Paddington train, which turned up 40 minutes late and had no heating. He wonders whether privatisation is responsible for this sorry state of affairs, too: "If BR managers are busy organising their management buy-outs, they presumably have less time and energy to run the railways. Should their bids succeed, no doubt they will start paying full attention to the trains once more and thereby proclaim the sell-off to be a success."

Wherever your travels lead over Christmas, as Bing Crosby (nearly) crooned - may your delays be merry and bright.

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