Battling on in opposition: Tom Watson’s report on ministerial cars

Leading anti-government aggressor Tom Watson MP’s latest crop of parliamentary questions is ready for harvest. His efficiency report checks up on the promised reductions to the ministerial car service, something the Tory-Liberal government had crowed would be kept to a minimum.

Ministerial cars have always been hard to defend. And in the age of ostensible governmental austerity they are particularly so. Watson has estimated that if the coalition kept their word on reductions, they could be saving the public £6.2 million a year.  But if you go by Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan’s interpretation of ‘we’re all in this together’,  one of three cars will be waiting outside your house to take you to work tomorrow (even though poor junior minister David Jones will be getting the bus from now on).

From the report, it looks like some ministers are having a go at giving up the privilege. Jeremy Hunt is leading the pack, even though he said it was ‘an absolute pain’ to lose the car. What better way for health secretary Andrew Lansley to lead by example than by taking a brisk walk to work every day. Maude is bike riding.

But there are plenty of baddies. George Osborne is keeping his car for “security reasons”. Communities and local government have six cars with six different drivers. And, unforgettably, Andrew Robathan took his chauffeur to France with him.

This adds up to more than a few cases of fine wine. This report actually demonstrates how differently government ministers are taking their responsibility to the public.

The greatest car scandal of the new Labour days persists under the Tories, though: all but a handful of the ministerial vehicles are made in Japan. There is no other car-manufacturing country in the world whose government ministers are officially conveyed in foreign cars.

Can you imagine a German minister being chauffered around Berlin in a Jaguar? Or a French secretaire d’etat (junior minister) gliding around paris in a French government Mercedes? The notion is ridiculous.

It is a disgrace that British ministers are ferried around in environmentally tokenistic foreign-made Priuses, whose two engines are constructed in an environmentally costly process in Japan before being shipped half way round the world on boats belching out fossil fuel waste into the sea.

In truth, neither Labour nor the Tories are entirely to blame (though Douglas Alexander bears more blame than most). It is the Sir Humphreys of the government car service whose lives have hitherto been so insulated from reality that they don’t understand why British ministers on official business should be driving British cars. Let us hope that civil service insulation is about to start wearing a bit thinner.

And full marks to Watson, whose ministerial car when he was a cabinet office minister was a two-tone Mini cooper, made in Cowley by unionised British workers.

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6 Responses to “Battling on in opposition: Tom Watson’s report on ministerial cars”

  1. Jon Worth says:

    Sorry but the French and German comparison doesn’t hold up. If anything their regimes for ministerial cars are even more generous than British ones (although, it must be said, their respective governments have fewer ministers). See this for example, where Sarko is saying he wants to reduce the state car service ‘by 10000 vehicles by 2013’. Not sure how much of that is for ministers of ministries exactly, but I would be astounded if the French bill for ministerial cars was less than the British one.

  2. Ellen says:

    Why is George Osborne a baddy for using a government car for security reasons? Do you have access to records regarding the detailed security of senior ministers? Do you know for a fact that Mr. Osborne does not need a car for security purposes? Is the Metropolitan Police Service sharing this information with you? Do you think that there are not whack jobs out there that are unhappy with the decisions that some ministers must take? It is disgraceful and in poor taste to attack a minister’s security measures when you are ignorant of the threats that he or she may be under. It is cheap when Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, and David Miliband are attacked by the Tories for still having cars and it is cheap when Tom Watson tries to score political points off of Conservative ministers. I will concede, however, that David Cameron’s attitude is very sanctimonious regarding government cars and he deserves to be called out on that.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by tom_watson, sion simon and Andy Payne, Sally Bercow. Sally Bercow said: RT @sionsimon @tom_watson slams the Government's use of ministerial cars <<*plus* their damn cars nick my parking space […]

  4. Editor says:

    @Jon Worth

    The point which mentions the French and the Germans is a separate one from the cost. It is that if British ministers are to be driven around at public expense, it should be in British cars made by British workers. Just as French ministers drive French cars, Germans ministers drive Germans cars and so on.

  5. Jon Worth says:

    @Editor – so you want ministerial cars to justify a petty nationalism, to try to – in a tiny way – prop up a British car industry that is already in foreign hands anyway? It would be better to actually do something wider and constructive to assist manufacturing industry, rather than such a symbolic step.

    What car options are there anyway? Mini (owned by BMW), Bentley (owned by VW), Rolls Royce (owned by BMW), Jaguar (owned by Tata), Land Rover (owned by Tata)…

  6. Tom King says:

    I think it’s disgusting that Minister’s are driving foreign car’s. And the Police Service should start looking at the Jaguar which is now hailed as on the best car’s in the world! No wonder this country is going down the pan. Come on chaps what’s happened to our British patriotism. So what if our car industry is owned by foreigner’s we should still be supporting our British worker’s by driving the car’s which they have built!

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