GOVERNMENT agencies in Edinburgh have come under fire for signing a new £1.4 million taxi contract to ferry civil servants and officials around the city.
The Scottish Government handed the contract to a city cab firm despite having previously ordered a “presumption against taxi journeys” – and asked staff to use Lothian Buses instead.
Quangos including the controversial Scottish Futures Trust will also be among the public bodies using taxis under the arrangement.
Two years ago the Evening News revealed civil servants had racked up nearly £1.5m in trips around the city over five years.
This included the revelation that £129,700 had been spent travelling between the Scottish Government headquarters at Victoria Quay in Leith and St Andrew’s House and led to staff being ordered to take the No. 22 bus instead.
The Scottish Government operated a similar arrangement with another cab company previously and has signed a new four-year contract with Central Taxis this week.
A spokesman insisted the government has steadily reduced the taxi bill to taxpayers in recent years.
Staff have spent more than £900,000 on journeys in Edinburgh in the past four years but the amounts have decreased from £305,932 in 2008 to £138,891 in 2012.
Edinburgh-based government agencies, which include the Forestry Commission, Student Loans Company, Northern Lighthouse Board, the Scottish Water spin-off Business Stream, and the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body have also spent £1.6m getting around the city since 2008.
Patrick Harvie MSP, convener of the Scottish Greens, said civil servants should only take taxis when no other suitable transport is available.
He said: “Taxis do sometimes have a role to play, particularly if it encourages staff members not to bring their car to work if they need to make one journey during the day.
“But the default should always be to use public transport or walking and cycling to get about, because this is taxpayers’ money, and because of the benefit to both their health and the environment.”
Margo MacDonald, the independent Lothians MSP, said the current disruption in the city centre caused by the tram works often made it necessary to use taxis.
However, she said staff had to remember they are using taxpayers’ cash when doing so.
She said: “As anyone doing business in the town at the moment will tell you, it is often necessary to take a taxi.”
The government stressed that the £1.4m was the top-line figure, that it is not committed to spending that, and that all attempts will be made to keep expenditure considerably lower over the next four years.
A government spokesman said: “Scottish Government spend on taxis has fallen by more than 50 per cent since 2008-09. This contract aims to achieve maximum value for money by further reducing taxi use.”