Linda Colling: Olympic vanity trip

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HOW Nick Clegg stirred up a hornet’s nest with his vow to strip millions of pensioners of their free bus passes and television licences.

The very idea of means testing these handouts, to ensure they don’t go to wealthier or millionaire pensioners came without a bench mark.

How rich is rich? Whether or not you are on a pension of £30,000 a year or have millions, taking away perks you are entitled to is wrong when you’ve worked and paid into the system.

It should come down to this being a matter of choice, not something dictated by the state. And if you are loaded you won’t be using buses anyway, far more likely driving or being chauffeured.

The fatal flaw to this non-starter is that it would doubtless cost more to recoup any money than what it would bring in.

Yes, there are some very wealthy pensioners who do not need a winter fuel allowance, bus pass or TV licence. And there’s plenty still working who would argue that, after a lifetime of graft, why should they be denied these perks when they are still working to fund the layabouts who have never worked, or have any intention of doing so?

Far better if Clegg came up with a plan to accommodate those who wish to forfeit these perks because they don’t need them.

But there’s no real substance to his plan, unlike the wilful squandering of our money at the ever-soaring Olympics extravaganza which has smashed the £1 billion barrier.

This jamboree’s start and finish doubled overnight to £81 million, including £41 million of taxpayers money. What a hollow ring the assurance of Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson held that it will be money well spent in terms of promoting Britain. Rubbish.

The world isn’t going to view us any differently no matter how many fireworks we send up or dancing girls we bring on. It’s brainless to think any different.

This vanity trip couldn’t have come at a worse time. We’re the fools putting on the show – a massive and monstrous white elephant. It’s the biggest extravagance in our history at a time when we’re on our financial uppers.

It’s become a bottomless pit with more and more money thrown at the problem. Other countries who were in the running must be thanking their lucky stars they lost the bid.

Yes, it’s got people’s dander up just as much as Clegg’s perks pinching, as I discovered after popping into Juniper’s Pantry at the Barnes.

Retired civil servants Annette Murray, 65, of Ashbrooke and Carol Armstrong, 60, of Tunstall, were totally opposed to the plan and the Olympics.

Carol refuses to have a bus pass because she has a car: “I’m not going to take one because I don’t need it.” But she knows plenty who do and rely on it like her 81-year-old mother-in-law: “I think it’s a lovely thing, because it’s a social thing and my mother-in-law uses hers every single day on the bus, but it would be different if she had to pay.”

And Annette’s rating was: “No way it’s a good idea. Means testing is ludicrous. It’s too expensive. I can walk into town and I do drive.”

As for the Olympics, Carol said: “What an absolute waste of money. We have got nothing to be proud of.”

Semi-retired Eileen Joyce, 57, of Royal Courts, asked: “How can they justify all this spending when they are trying to rob old people? I think we are really silly spending that amount of money when we have nothing.“

Teresa and David Gill, of High Barnes, reckoned it could be put to better use.

Teresa, 59, thought it was as disgraceful as Clegg’s plan, and her 63-year-old husband, a retired oil rig worker, thought it totally wrong to axe any perks.

Kenny Gardiner, 47, an worker from Pennywell, said: “If you have paid in to it you should get them. Why take from the old people and why waste all that money on maintenance men? I don’t think it’s fair.”

At 65, self-employed Frank Smith, of Hetton, is still working and wrote off Clegg’s plan as “ridiculous”.

He said: “Anybody with a substantial amount of money doesn’t need a bus pass or a heating allowance and it should go to someone who needs it. It’s a very grey area. I don’t need a bus pass. My wife hasn’t got one and she’s 66.”

Frank was critical of the abysmal budgeting for the Olympics: “If only half of them worked for themselves and realised how the rest of the country lives and how you have to make ends meet. They are not living in the real world.” Indeed.