Claire Trevett

Claire Trevett is the New Zealand Herald’s deputy political editor.

General confusion over BBC doco

TV film about a posh London hotel finds man once dubbed as the ‘Minister of Frugality’ in spotlight.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson was in New Zealand at the time of the Olympics. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson was in New Zealand at the time of the Olympics. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In a case of muddled generals the BBC documentary Inside Claridges claimed New Zealand Attorney-General Chris Finlayson had stayed at the plush hotel during the London Olympics in 2012, apparently confusing the title with Governor-General.

The show screened on TV One last week and showed the hotel preparing for the London Olympics, saying it was hosting about 30 delegations from around the world included New Zealand's attorney-general. It prompted some political onlookers to go hunting through Mr Finlayson's credit card releases to see how much his Olympics jaunt cost, only to come up empty-handed.

Further checks revealed the show had muddled up the attorney-general for the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae.

A spokeswoman confirmed Sir Jerry had stayed at Claridges with his wife Lady Janine while at the Olympics from July 26 to July 31, 2012.

He had not had a choice of hotel - the London Olympics Committee had block-booked hotels and allocated Claridges to the NZ Olympic Committee.

She said the Governor-General's office did not release the costs of individual trips but the Governor-General had attended at the request of the Prime Minister and was the patron of the NZ Olympic Committee. Budget papers show his total budget for overseas travel in 2012-13 was $307,000.

A spokesman for Mr Finlayson said he had been in New Zealand for the full Olympics period from July 27 to August 12. He was in New Plymouth when it started, visited places including Wellington, Auckland, Dunedin, Christchurch, and Waikato before ending up in Kaitaia when the Olympics ended.

"That is not to say Kaitaia doesn't have hotels as flash as Claridges. In fact, I'm looking forward to the documentary on them."

In 2009, Finlayson was dubbed the "Minister of Frugality" for his care with taxpayers' money. He had turned down a trip to the Venice Biennale to save taxpayers about $40,000 and planned to catch the Tube or borrow a friend's car on a trip to London.

Finlayson has visited London several times in recent years. His preferred accommodation was the East India Club, a bargain at about $400 a night but for which he copped mockery given it was a gentlemen's club and allowed no women. He has also stayed at the relatively inexpensive Radisson Blu. In 2013 he used the Sofitel St James where the bill came to $6300 for four nights for himself and a staffer. The Sofitel St James is the hotel the Prime Minister also often uses in London.

While at the Olympics, the Governor-General went to the opening ceremony, met Prince Charles and Camilla, attended the "trot up" vet checks for the equestrian event, and watched New Zealanders compete in rowing and hockey as well as visiting the Olympics village. He also hosted a dinner at the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, London, on the eve of the Olympics where New Zealand's flag-bearer, Nick Willis, was announced.

War centenaries stretch travel budget

Sir Jerry MateparaeThe round of World War I centenary commemorations is expected to bring an increase in the Governor-General's overseas travel budget. Documents show that in the 2013/14 year it had to be topped up from $307,000 to $465,000 "due to an increase ... in the Governor-General's travel programme to attend World War I centenary commemorations in Europe and Africa" .

Although this year $307,000 was again allocated for his overseas travel, a range of commemorations from 2015 to 2019 are likely to overstretch the budget. Among the most significant for New Zealand will be the centenary of the Anzac landing in April 2015.

As head of state, Sir Jerry Mateparae represents New Zealand at many events. He is also a former Chief of Defence Force.

The Governor-General's overseas travel budget was $256,000 in 2011 and 2012.

Overall, the Governor-General costs about $5.8 million a year including $4.3 million for staff, policy advice, support services and the maintenance of Government House. A further $1.5 million accounts for his salary, allowances, work in New Zealand and international travel.

- NZ Herald

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