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John Bercow: I'll use chauffeur-driven cars only when 'absolutely necessary'

Published 25/07/2015

Fresh details of John Bercow's travel costs have been disclosed following a Freedom of Information investigation.
Fresh details of John Bercow's travel costs have been disclosed following a Freedom of Information investigation.

John Bercow has pledged to use chauffeur-driven cars only when "absolutely necessary" after racking up a £172 bill travelling to a conference just 0.7 miles (1.1km) from Parliament.

The Speaker came under heavy fire after a freedom of information (FOI) request by the Press Association revealed fresh details of his spending.

Mr Bercow has been widely criticised for splashing out large sums on foreign trips - including visits to Australia, New Zealand, Burma, South Africa, the US, Finland and Austria.

But while the House authorities have previously published breakdowns of hundreds of thousands of pounds of his expenses since 2009, they have not always been complete.

In the wake of a landmark Court of Appeal ruling on the scope of FOI, Parliament has now supplied the individual receipts that were submitted over the past three years.

Among the material in the disclosure is:

:: Mr Bercow used an official car to travel to Canterbury to see Archbishop Justin Welby enthroned in 2013 - at a cost of £524.

:: In April that year he spent £172 taking a car to Carlton House Terrace - just 0.7 miles (1.1km) from the Commons - to open a conference on alternative and augmentative communication (AAC). A taxi fare for the round trip is likely to have been less than £15.

:: The same month his transport bill to a dinner organised by charity Stonewall at the Dorchester Hotel - 1.5 miles (2.4km) from Parliament - was £144.

:: A one-way drive from King's Cross station to Speaker's House after a day trip to Leeds in July 2013 cost £168.

:: Mr Bercow's car to Baroness Thatcher's funeral at St Paul's Cathedral, 1.8 miles (2.9km) from the Commons, cost £158.

:: In May 2013 there was a £367 bill for the Speaker to be driven to the University of Bedfordshire, where he gave a lecture on reforming parliament to ensure it was a "credible institution". "The expenses scandal proved to be an 'adapt or die' moment for Members of Parliament," he said.

:: He kept a chauffeur-driven car waiting while he attended a memorial service for former minister Malcolm Wicks in Croydon, south London, in October 2012 - costing £289 for five hours.

:: The Speaker had a Foreign Office car pick him up at Manchester Piccadilly station after travelling up to attend the funeral of Labour MP Paul Goggins in January last year. It ferried Mr Bercow and a staff member around "as directed" at a cost of £298, before they stayed at the Park Inn Radisson hotel in the centre of the city.

The following day, it took Mr Bercow and two staff members to the service in Salford, waiting and dropping them back to Manchester Piccadilly at a further cost of £276.

In total, the Speaker and his staff ran up expenses of nearly £1,300 attending the service.

:: Mr Bercow and an aide charged 299 US dollars for dinner while staying at the five-star Strand hotel in Rangoon during an official visit to Burma in the summer of 2013. The hotel's website says it offers "grand colonial splendour".

Mr Bercow is not believed to require an official car for security reasons, and the receipts indicate he has used commercial firms such as Little's Chauffeur Drive and WestOne Cars as well as the Government Car Service.

Referring to the expenses, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Greg Hands wrote on Twitter: "All MPs should be setting a much better example than this, when it comes to spending public money."

TaxPayers' Alliance campaign director Andy Silvester said: "This is an obscene waste of money and shows appalling judgment from whoever made the arrangements.

"Hugely expensive chauffeur-driven travel and costly meals abroad don't look good when this Speaker was elected specifically to improve the reputation of Parliament in light of the expenses scandal.

"It is impossible to comprehend how some of these bills have spiralled to such a degree and questions must be asked."

But a spokesman for the Speaker said: "One of the Speaker's duties is to represent Parliament at home and abroad. The Speaker attends funerals and memorials for former parliamentarians as both a mark of respect and as a representative of his parliamentary colleagues.

"Additionally, the Speaker is committed to encouraging public engagement with Parliament and regularly visits universities, charities and other organisations around the UK to explain the work of the House of Commons.

"The Speaker is always mindful of costs, and travels standard class in the UK and when away from home, stays in hotels that offer value for money."

The spokesman added later: "Whilst the Speaker tries to avoid travelling by car to fulfil his obligations wherever possible, situations do arise where doing so is the only viable option.

"In line with his ongoing policy of reducing expenditure, he intends to use the car service only in circumstances when it is absolutely necessary.

"The Speaker is committed to cutting costs wherever possible, and the overall expenditure of the Speaker's Office has fallen during his tenure from £626,029 in 2009/10 to £504,737 in 2014/15, representing a reduction of 19.4% since he was elected to the role."

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