Peter Bills on rugby

Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: I'm sorry, NZ - Britain is a far bigger rip-off

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To whom it may concern: an apology.

This writer may have erroneously given the impression last year while on a visit to New Zealand that this country is one enormous rip-off. He may have suggested that you Kiwis were risking pricing yourselves out of the international travel market by fleecing anyone brave enough to change planes at Auckland International.

Furthermore, the inflammatory tone of the article created a whirlwind of opinion, both for and against. The views seemed to divide between those New Zealanders who lived or had travelled extensively overseas and those who had largely remained at home. Then there was the group whose members were fully signed up to the "Bash a Brit" philosophy, whatever he was saying.

But to one and all, man, woman or child, I issue a heartfelt apology. If I gave the impression that New Zealand was one of the greediest, biggest rip-off countries on the entire planet, I take it all back. For I have found a worse one. And it's in my own back yard.

It is a good thing that the Kiwi dollar is doing to the British pound what legions of former All Black rugby men used to do at the bottom of a ruck - ie, giving it a good kicking.

Otherwise, visitors to Britain at this time would be using shop alleyways as sleeping accommodation and a large empty begging bowl would be their only prospect of finding some food to eat.

Britain has gone cost crazy. So much so that the latest Lonely Planet guide to Britain, published this week, stated tourist attractions are "overpriced or lacking in quality".

Some of Britain's tourism industry "just doesn't deliver", said David Else, author of the Great Britain guide and the wallets of Britons were "struggling to take the strain" because "Britain ain't cheap", he added.

People holidaying at home this year were likely to go abroad in 2012 if they felt they were not getting value for money, Mr Else warned.

There's only one thing wrong with this assessment. He's behind the times.

Millions of Brits already go abroad for their holidays because they can't afford to pay the prices demanded in Britain. Many even live abroad permanently because they got sick of being robbed from the moment they opened their eyes in the morning to when they shut them again at night.

A friend of mine, a physiotherapist with her own business who is planning to retire, believes she will have to sell up and move to France to fund her retirement. "It is just too expensive to live in this country" she told me. So many others share such a view.

The price of everything in Britain has rocketed in recent years. Gas, electricity, water, petrol, council tax, income tax, national insurance - you name it, the price has been hiked.

A quite small, three-bedroom cottage in the country outside Oxford which a few years ago cost around £300 ($617) in council tax now costs about £1600 annually. Gas, electricity and water charges have soared. Petrol is the most expensive in Europe; diesel averaging around £1.42 per litre, with unleaded petrol a few pence less. That represents getting on for £6 a gallon, a simply stunning figure.

So who is to blame? The Arabs? Not so. Most of Britain's petrol/diesel costs comprise tax. A litre of diesel costing £1.42 includes almost 90p in tax.

Then there is the privatised public transport system. Last week, a group of British commuters defied the high charges by paying for a train fare from Canterbury in Kent to London what they would have been charged under France's subsidised transport industry. On one of France's super smooth TGV trains, a journey of that distance - around 96km - would have cost £7. In Britain, the same distance train journey costs £27.

If you arrive in Britain and do not have a pre-paid London Underground "oyster" card, you will pay a whopping £4 to travel one stop. And a 5-minute bus ride in the London suburbs costs £2.20.

But perhaps there is one item which exceeds even those grotesque costs. Food. The relentless rise of supermarkets in Britain has, unlike in France, meant the demise of most small or medium sized grocers or individual bread shops. Given that growing monopoly of the markets, supermarkets such as Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrison have made enormous profits.

Tesco's figures for the year to February 2011 reported group sales up 8.1 per cent to £67.6 billion, representing a 12.3 per cent rise in underlying profit before tax to £3.8 billion.

These eye-watering sums have come through the killing off of most rivals, so that the monopoly has allowed these food giants to price as they wish.

Cheap snacks in Britain are as ancient as the few remaining areas of old woodland. At a pub by the river in Sandwich, Kent, two sandwiches with a few crisps, plus two glasses of rose wine for lunch last week cost a staggering £29. Each glass of wine cost £7.

A tour of Sainsbury's supermarket in one London suburb last week stunned me. Bottles of rose from Provence in the south of France were priced from £5.99 to £8.99. Yet in the south of France a few days ago, customers were able to buy a bottle of perfectly drinkable Cave Saint-Ronain rose wine, Cotes de Provence from Nimes, for €1.50 ($2.68).

Prices everywhere in Britain seem to have gone through the stratosphere. Only if customers pick through the cheapest products or those at the extremity of their sell-by date can they find anything remotely reasonable. A loaf of bread at a country bakers cost me £1.84 a couple of weeks back.

Fancy a day out? The Tower of London costs £17 for an adult, and Madame Tussauds £28.80 per adult or £99 for a family of four.

Outside London is no cheaper. Chessington World of Adventures theme park is £37.20 for an adult and £102 for a family. Warwick Castle in the Midlands charges a crazy £122.40 for the castle, plus extra on site attractions. All are a little cheaper if booked online and avoid the massive queues.

If you are visiting Britain and want to go to several attractions, joining the National Trust might be your best bet. For a year's membership, you will pay just £88.50 for two adults, and you can visit all manner of properties around the country.

In the world of hotels, British prices rose 8 per cent across the country in February but as much as 28 per cent in certain cities. The highest price hikes were found in Birmingham (17 per cent up), Edinburgh (22 per cent) and Cardiff (28 per cent). Yet in Europe, hotel prices rose only 3 per cent over the same period. A standard double room in London averages £137 a night. The European average is £91.

Hotel operators' costs have increased. But surely nowhere near those levels. Indeed, given the plethora of labour available in these times of recession, staff costs have probably fallen.

You either need to be hugely well off in a financial sense or desperate to visit Britain these days. The place is massively in debt, £149 billion when last counted, and every citizen and visitor is seen as fair game from which to screw an increasingly extortionate amount of money.

The good news for New Zealanders is the kiwi dollar is strong, which might tempt you to head overseas. The bad news is, it won't make much difference if you insist on going to Britain.

So now comes the No1 contest of the year, the battle to see whether New Zealand greed during the Rugby World Cup can match the perpetual rapaciousness of British shops, hotels, restaurants, pubs and transport systems.

Right now, it has to be said, unlike the All Blacks who will start the World Cup as favourites, I'd put Britain as hot favourites to win that particular contest.

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