Rail fares minister chauffeured to work in £400-a-day car

Jan 6, 2013

Commuters outraged that Simon Burns spends £80,000 a year on car for 35-mile trip

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THE MINISTER overseeing sharp rises in rail fares uses a chauffeur-driven car to make the 35-mile commute from his Essex home to Whitehall, at a cost to taxpayers of £80,000 a year.

Simon Burns insists he only takes the £400-a-day car because he can't take sensitive ministerial documents on a train for "security reasons", the Mail on Sunday reports. But the paper says his claim has been “contradicted” by the Cabinet Office which says ministers are free to work on sensitive documents in public as long as the classified material cannot be seen.

The average cost of rail tickets shot up by 4.2 per cent last week, the latest "above-inflation" rise despite the well-publicised overcrowding on many rush-hour services. 

Burns, a Tory minister of state with responsibility for 'rail strategy' and 'fares policy', does not have to endure such inconveniences because he makes the daily trip from his home in Chelmsford to Whitehall in a "brand new" £25,000 Toyota Avensis owned by the Transport Department, the Mail says. The paper quotes a "senior Whitehall source" who claims that Burns has "effectively commandeered" the car.

A spokesman for the passengers' campaign group Railfuture told Metro: "It would be nice if the person who is setting these fare rises was also experiencing some of the congestion and overcrowding endured by ordinary, hard-pressed travellers."

Burns's use of the car was also criticised by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton who described the minister’s use of the Avensis as an "extremely poor use" of taxpayer funds and "a very bad example for a minister to set".

The Mail points out that David Cameron has "urged" his colleagues to use public transport and the PM regularly takes the train from his Oxfordshire constituency. Deputy PM Nick Clegg is a regular train user and has swapped the red box traditionally used by ministers to carry sensitive documents for a more discreet black container. 

News of the minister’s travel arrangements provoked a hostile reception from commuters using the social media site Twitter. "The only train he [Burns] rides has gravy in it!" tweeted a user called Unnamed Insider.

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