01 June 2008
Scottish ministers and senior officials have made nearly 3,000 journeys in government limos, averaging 80 a week, while telling members of the public to use their cars less.
The Sunday Herald has obtained official details of all the occasions on which ministerial cars have been used between 16 May 2007 and 31 January 2008. Top of the list is the finance minister, John Swinney, with exactly 500 trips, closely followed by the First Minister, Alex Salmond, with 488.
Salmond used his ministerial limo to visit his favourite curry house, the Raj Restaurant in Leith, six times in the first three months of his government. But no visits there have been recorded since August last year.
On 20 November last year, Salmond used his government car to take him from his official residence in Bute House on Charlotte Square in Edinburgh to a destination in “George Street, Edinburgh”. George Street is only a few metres from Bute House.
Ministers are currently urging members of the public to take "ten steps to a greener Scotland". One is to “leave the car at home at least once a week and walk, cycle, share a car or use public transport more often.”
Two other cabinet ministers managed to top 400 car journeys: the education minister, Fiona Hyslop and the health minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Next was the head of the Scottish civil service, John Elvidge, with 318 trips.
Three other ministers made much less use of government cars: the justice minister, Kenny MacAskill; the environment minister, Richard Lochhead; and the transport minister Stewart Stevenson (see table below). The details of official car usage were released on Friday in response to a freedom of information request by the Sunday Herald.
The Green MSP, Patrick Harvie, criticised ministers for failing to set a good example. “It’s clear that since 2003 Labour, LibDem and SNP ministers alike have had a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ attitude to transport, with all three parties far keener on cars than they are on trains and buses,” he said.
“The current government makes a lot of noise about its ten token green pledges, which include calls for ordinary Scots to “share a car or use public transport more often”. Some ministers do better than others at following this advice.”
The Scottish government pointed out that it was essential for ministers to travel to do their work. “Travel is always made with a view to supporting the efficient conduct of government business,” said a government spokesman.
“The total number of car journeys made by cabinet secretaries and ministers is less than before. Wherever practicable, cabinet secretaries, ministers and senior civil servants use public transport and walk to their engagements.”
The spokesman stressed that “strenuous efforts” were being made to make government travel more sustainable. The government published a travel plan last December setting out its intentions.
TABLE: GOVERNMENT CAR USE
minister or official / trips in government cars (16 May 2007 - 31 January 2008)
John Swinney, finance minister / 500
Alex Salmond, first minister / 488
Fiona Hyslop, education minister / 444
Nicola Sturgeon, health minister/ 409
John Elvidge, permanent secretary / 318
Kenny MacAskill, justice minister / 271
Richard Lochhead, environment minister / 209
Stewart Stevenson, transport minister / 200
Other senior officials / 78
Total / 2,917
source: Scottish government