Belfast Telegraph

Friday 28 November 2014

£72,000 for civil servants’ taxis

Civil servants in Northern Ireland have racked up a taxi bill of over £72,000 in just one year, Government records have revealed.

Over £25,000 of the sum accounts for journeys made by staff at the Youth Justice Agency.

During the last financial year the NIO’s invoiced bill came to £42,455, although the total cost is higher still as journeys claimed back through expenses claims are not included in the total.

During the same period, the Scotland Office spent £10,885.

The rest of the bill was made up from a £1,433 claim by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, £1,796 from Forensic Science Northern Ireland and £1,167 from the Compensation Agency.

The breakdown of costs was released in Parliament after a question from Conservative MP Philip Davies.

He said: “Everybody is feeling the pinch, businesses are looking at all of their costs and families are doing the same. It is important that government departments do the same.

“For a government that is always lecturing people to use public transport they ought to start doing the same.

“They tell everybody else to use it but don’t want to do it themselves. It is a very patronising attitude that I don’t subscribe to.

“I’m certain the department could make savings. I’m sure if it was their own money there would be a reduction.”

Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird said: “I have taken an interest in taxi fares since some people in the NIO accused me of spending £400 on a taxi. I will be asking in Parliament for a detailed breakdown of these fares.

“They have made me particularly interested in this subject, so I want to see every fare.”

Records released at the same time also revealed the department owns 27 buildings that it uses to put up staff working away from home.

Shaun Woodward, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said: “Where, for business reasons, staff are required to work away from their appointed office and commuting is not practical they are provided with accommodation.

“The standard provision is a flat but there are three houses in Northern Ireland. The properties are occupied by staff at all grades.”

A spokeswoman for the NIO said: “The amount spent on taxis is necessary for the efficient conduct of the departmental business. In the department’s view these sums represent best value for money.”

In 2005 Lord Laird was criticised after it emerged that more than £2,000 was spent on taxi fares while he was chairman of the Ulster Scots Agency. The veteran UUP politician denied any responsibility for his travel costs as agency chairman in 2000 and 2001.

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