Why won’t ministers follow through with promises of cutting their cars?


9:10 am - August 10th 2010

by Tom Watson MP    


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The Coalition Government pledged to cut waste by axing chauffeur driven ministerial cars. Based on information supplied to me through parliamentary questions, I’ve estimated that this could deliver savings to the taxpayer of at least £6.2 million per annum.

An important job of any opposition politician is to hold the executive to account.

That’s why nearly 80 days into David and Nick’s “new politics”; I am providing a progress report on their efforts to reduce the ministerial car fleet.

My figures show, however, that the Coalition’s record has been far from convincing. Seven departments show no sign of giving up their cars, while many other Secretaries of State continue to cling on to their own chauffeur driven car.

I’m now calling on the remaining Ministers of David and Nick’s Government to follow through with their promise. There is no reason why a hardcore of Ministers should continue to be chauffeur driven in cars – especially when the likes of Green Hero Jeremy Hunt have managed to scrap their fleet. Hunt alone estimates that he expects to save £250,000 from his decision.

My report is backed up by the new ministerial code, published on 21 May 2010, which contains changes that affect ministerial entitlement to travel by Government car. It states that

the number of Ministers with allocated cars and drivers will be kept to a minimum, taking into account security and other relevant considerations. Other Ministers will be entitled to use cars from the Government Car Service Pool as needed

It’s time for Ministers to axe their cars and prove that we really are “all in this together”.

* * * * * *

David Cameron: Cutting the Cost of Politics, Speech on 8 September 2009

If there is something that really annoys people it’s seeing politicians swanning around in chauffeur-driven cars like they’re the Royal Family. In these economic times, when everyone is making their own sacrifice, this number (of official cars) cannot be justified. So the Conservatives will cut the budget for official government cars by a third.

David Laws MP, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, 24 May 2010

In the future, no minister should have a dedicated car or driver other than in exceptional circumstances… Ministers will be expected to walk or take public transport where possible, or use a pooled car. The pooling of cars will allow big savings to be made.

FAILED TO DELIVER
Prime Minister David Cameron
David has set an example by kitting himself out with a new armored Jaguar XJ since entering Downing Street. Presumably, it will go well with the new kitchen.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: Hague stalls
William Hague believes his team of six ministers should stick with their team of five chauffeur driven cars. There’s been absolutely no sign from the Foreign Secretary that he’ll be trading in the Jaguar XJL, the three Toyota Prius’ or the Vauxhall Vectra just yet.

Potential Savings: £416,665

Ministry of Justice: Ken Clarke justifies his car
Ken Clarke, like many ministers, has told me that he’s working with the Department for Transport to “effect the transition to the new ministerial code”. What he hasn’t told taxpayers, though, is whether that means the Ministry of Justice plans to ditch its Jaguar XJ TDI Sovereign, Toyota Prius and two Honda Civic ES Hybrids.

Potential Savings: £333,332

Energy and Climate Change: Huhne sticks with Toyota
The Energy and Climate Change has been evasive too. I’ve again been given no indication that Chris Huhne has any plans to trade in the four Toyota Prius’ at this moment in time.

Potential Savings: £333,332

Department for Education: Gove cuts schools budget and keeps car
Residents in Sandwell were shocked to discover this week that Michael Gove and his team can’t come to Sandwell. Mr Gove promised to visit Sandwell and explain to head teachers why he cut Building Schools for the Future Funding.

With a Jaguar, 3 Toyota Prius’ and a Honda Civic on standby for education.

SUCCESSES

Culture, Media and Sport: Green Hero Hunt
Well done Jeremy Hunt for leading the way. He was the first Secretary of State to scrap all ministerial cars. Although Jeremy confessed this week that losing his car was “an absolute pain”, he’s followed through with the Government’s promise.
Estimated Savings: £250,000

Department of Health: A Healthy Start for Lansley
Andrew Lansley plans to give up his car and that of his ministers. Indeed he’s already ditched the Jaguar XJ TDVi Sovereign. The Department claims that they must continue to meet their contractual obligations to have five named cars and drivers until 19th August though. But, from then on in, it’s walking to work for the Health team.

Estimated Savings: £416,665

DEFRA: Spelman serves an ace
DEFRA have decided not to have allocated cars or drivers. In answer to a parliamentary question the Department state that they are working with the Department for Transport and Government Despatch Agency to put this into practice.

Presumably this will mean that there will be no more sneaky lifts to work after morning tennis with friends for Caroline Spelman then.
Estimated Savings: £166,666

Cabinet Office: Maude gets on his bike
Francis Maude has cancelled the contracts on the three cars and drivers for his ministers. He’s told me that he likes to use his bicycle as much as he can for ministerial travel. Mr Maude has set an example that other departments would do well to follow.
Estimated Savings: £249,999

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: A pool car for Cable
I was told that Vince Cable plans to switch to a pool car. In a subsequent answer to one of my parliamentary colleagues, it now transpires that all other contracts for chauffer driven cars will be terminated at the Department too.
Estimated Savings: £583,331

MAKING PROGRESS BUT MORE TO DO

Home Office: Theresa May’s new wheels?
Well done to the Home Secretary. She’s cancelled all of the contracts for chauffeur driven cars at the Home Office.
While Theresa May is protected by the Metropolitan Police Service, the Daily Telegraph has ironically spotted her being chauffeured in the latest Jaguar XJ. The luxury car costs just under £75,000 for a mid-range Portfolio model – and £91,000 for the top-of-the range Supersport.
Estimated Savings: £416,665

HM Treasury: Is Osborne keeping the Jag?
Well done to the Chancellor for cancelling all chauffeur driven cars for ministers. He’s told me that he’s keeping his own car, though, for “security reasons”. Something tells me it won’t be the Toyota Prius that he’s plans to keep. Time will tell if he hangs on to the Jaguar XJ TDVi Sovereign.
Estimated Savings: £499,998

MOD: Red faces at the Ministry of Defence
Poor old Andrew Robathan. There were more red faces at the MoD when it was discovered that the junior Defence Minister and former Conservative Deputy Chief Whip Robathan took his chauffer driven car to France with him. Then transferred to another car when he got back to Dover to take him back to his home in Leicestershire.
Presumably, this is why his Department gave the answer that “Junior Defence Ministers draw on the Ministry of Defence pool of drivers and cars.”
Estimated Savings: Unknown

Department for Work and Pensions: Duncan-Smith hands back one set of keys
The DWP are handing back the Honda Civic. They’ve told me, though, that they now operate a pool of four cars for use by the Department’s five ministers. This leaves the Jaguar XJ and 3 Toyota Prius T3s still in use.
Estimated Savings: £416,665

Department for International Development: Mitchell drives on
Although slower to react than other departments, the Department for International Development has given notice to terminate the cars of ministers Alan Duncan and Stephen O’Brien.
Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell holds on to one of the Toyota Prius’. If Jeremy Hunt can give up his car, why can’t Mr Mitchell?
Estimated Savings: £249,999

Scotland Office: Moore opts to car share
Secretary of State Michael Moore continues to have a Honda Civic ES Hybrid. When he doesn’t need his chauffer, David Mundell and Lord Wallace can make use of the Honda.
Estimated Savings: £83,333

Wales Office: Cheryl clings on to two cars
We’ve already heard about her expensive Welsh hotel trips but it seems Cheryl Gillan is determined to hold on to her two cars. While junior minister David Jones is giving up his car, the Secretary of State for Wales will be driven in a Prius in London and then a Jag when she pops up to Wales.
If the Scotland Office can manage without a car in Scotland, it begs the question as to why Cheryl Gillan cannot manage without her Jaguar in Wales.
Estimated Savings: £249,999

Attorney General’s Office: One down, one to go
We know Dominic Grieve and Edward Garnier have given up one car. What they’ve given up and what car they are holding onto, we don’t know though.
If they got rid of both cars tomorrow, they could expect to make savings of £166,666.
Estimated Savings: £166,666

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About the author
Tom Watson used to be civil service minister in the Cabinet Office. He is MP for West Bromwich East and tweets here
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Reader comments


Tom,

My figures show, however, that the Coalition’s record has been far from convincing. Seven departments show no sign of giving up their cars, while many other Secretaries of State continue to cling on to their own chauffeur driven car.

I assume you have the figures for how many cars have been cut. It would be useful to have seen these as well – after all, you say there is a potential saving of £6.2 million, but your examples of cars not given up only total to just over £1 million, with Education and the Prime Minister not costed. To be generous, that would be £4 million saved so far (assuming Education and Prime Minister equal the other three departments)?

To be fair, there seems to be no reason why justice, education or energy and climate change should have a fleet of cars, however unpopular Mr Gove might be. Do you seriously believe that the prime minister should not have access to a designated armoured vehicle if needed though? And there is clearly an argument for foreign office ministers having vehicles, although I don’t buy it personally. I wouldn’t see this as a major scandal worth chasing yet (they’ve only been in office a few months), although if nothing has changed by next year, I think you can justifiably go for them then.

2. Rhys Williams

Tom
Lets grow up
Ministers have to look the part when dealing with people who will hopefully bring wealth to the country.
Picking up the French foreign minister in a mini cooper and asking him to pay the congestion charge while you shout at one of Boris’s blue cyclists doesn’t fit into the idea of ministerial dignity.
I always thought Cameron’s cycling stunt made him look like a wally especially when he was followed by a ministerial car with the documents

3. margin4error

Rhys

That’s a reasonable argument against making a promise of that sort – but not much of an argument for breaking said promise.

4. Rhys Williams

True

[deleted]

@3, 4

To quote the statement quoted by Tom in the original post:

the number of Ministers with allocated cars and drivers will be kept to a minimum, taking into account security and other relevant considerations.

This did not say abolition, merely to a minimum. The foreign office and prime-ministerial examples may be judged the necessary minimum. We can’t judge without more information, and perhaps Tom asking some more focussed questions (he could become one of those MPs that seem to be forever asking about particular specific minuitae of government, which is not actually a bad thing).

I’ve added the figures for successes

Must say, I really couldn’t care less. WHat ministers do with the great levers of state power matters far more than personal displays of virtue. The ridiculously low level of Capital Gains Tax presided over by Watson’s New Labour constituted far greater fiscal vandalism than any number of ministerial cars.

9. A real Liberal

What about all the Labour ex-ministers who are still swanning around in ministerial cars for “security” reasons? Has the Leader of the opposition (need any reminding – that’s the Labour Party) given up the chauffeur driven car and taken to the tube?

Sunny, I don’t think you should be publishing this kind of pathetic crap from a New Labour top toady. If sub-student union debating society party political points from a New Labour hack is what is wanted, there are plenty of other places to go on the internet to get it. It should be beneath LibCon to print it.

Tom Watson MP is one personification of what is wrong with today’s Labour Party. Let him fall to his knees and plead for forgiveness for Iraq before we give him a hearing. And before he does that, let him know that whatever crap he spouts on here, we will still always hate his stinking and voluminous guts.

Has anyone calculated the value to the state of a Minister’s time? How may other people’s work, and the progress of Executive action depend on the minister reading documents, signing papers and talking to others on the phone. All of these things he/she can do whilst travelling in a car and cannot reasonably do whilst using the bus, train or tube. Get your calculator out and figure out the COST to the taxpayer of stifling the efficiency of our Government.


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  8. Richard Cox

    Interesting article on MP's and their perks – #chauffeur driven cars http://ow.ly/2nNwH





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