Rail minister commutes in chauffeured car

THE GOVERNMENT minister responsible for setting rail fares will continue to use a chauffeur-driven car to commute into London from his Essex home, the Department for Transport insisted yesterday.

The department was forced to make the statement after it emerged that Simon Burns, the minister who has ultimate responsibility for fare policy, has been using a Toyota Avensis from the government’s car pool to make the journey from his home in Chelmsford to Westminster. The car, which can be used by other transport ministers during the day, costs taxpayers £80,000 a year.

The news angered commuters in his constituency who rely on the regular services from the Essex town to Liverpool Street station. Last week the cost of a standard class 12-month season ticket from Chelmsford to London rose by £120 to £3,540.

The DfT said: “The Minister of State does not have a home in London but uses his commute to work on official papers and so travels in a car provided by the government car service for security reasons.”

“The Ministerial Code permits ministers to use official cars for home-to-office journeys within a reasonable distance of London when they are working on classified papers.”

Despite this, many other ministers chose to work on official business while travelling on trains. Guidelines state that ministers can work on official papers in public, as long as they take steps to hide sensitive material.

Labour peer Lord Adonis yesterday insisted the cars were “unnecessary”.

“I never had a government car when transport secretary. Ministers should use the services they expect the public to use,” he said. “Sardines on the Victoria Line every morning, and the No. 88 bus, gave me a passion for tackling congestion and service failures.”

The coalition has already cut the budget of the car pool by a third to around £5.5m. Before coming to power David Cameron scorned its use: “If there is something that really annoys people it’s seeing politicians swanning around in chauffeur-driven cars like they’re the royal family”.