True cost of ministers’ cars

Anonymous query unearths true cost of ministers’ cars
By Heather Brooke
Daily Telegraph
(Filed: 31/12/2004)

New figures uncovered using the precursor to the Freedom of Information Act show that the taxpayer paid twice as much for ministers’ official cars as MPs had been told.

The totals obtained from the Government Car and Despatch Agency show that it billed Government departments £11.5 million for use of its fleet of 258 cars and vans for the year from March 2003.

That number is double the £5.75 million costing given to Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP for Lewes, last year in response to his ministerial question for the same information. “This brings into question the accuracy of parliamentary answers,” Mr Baker said.

“It’s extremely concerning that what was already a colossal figure is now double. I’ll definitely be writing to the Cabinet Office to see why the figures given to me are so different than those given to the Telegraph.”

The data was obtained by making an anonymous request as a member of the public under the Open Government Code, to be replaced by the Freedom of Information Act tomorrow. Nigel Bennett, the GCDA’s director of corporate and business affairs, said it was the first time his office had ever been asked to collect the information in a way that showed the full cost charged to each department.

Chauffeur-driven cars are provided for 114 ministers, senior civil servants and other VIPs, including former Prime Ministers. The fleet, which includes 16 Jaguars, drove more than a million miles last year. The data also shows that Government vehicles received 135 parking tickets over the year but paid only £3,610 in fines due to a successful appeals policy that led to 60 of the tickets being dropped.

The Cabinet Office and Home Office were the biggest spenders of public money on cars, with bills totalling £2.44 million and £2.3 million respectively.

The Cabinet Office was billed an additional £87,000 and the Home Office another £508,393 for the GCDA’s InterDespatch Service that provides a secure collection and delivery service.

The Cabinet Office figures do not include another £457,302 that the GCDA bills to the Prime Minister’s Office for its Government Car Service.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said that its high ranking was due to increased use of secure mail screening, which amounted to nearly £1.6 million of the total.

The opaque nature of the accounts and refusal of departments to detail how cars are used makes it impossible for the public to see if ministers stick to the rules when using publicly subsidised cars.

Drivers keep weekly travel logs of the hours worked, distance travelled and purpose of travel, but these are not made public.

Any record of other passengers in the cars is also kept secret.

The lack of accountability was laid bare when it emerged that the former Home Secretary, David Blunkett, used his official chauffeur and car to ferry his lover, Kimberly Quinn, to his Derbyshire cottage.

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