Scottish Government car use increases by a quarter

CAR use by ministers has increased by more than a quarter over the past three years despite the Scottish Government urging people to drive less, official figures showed yesterday.

Official Scottish Government car use has increased by over a quarter. Picture Ian Rutherford.

Nearly 10,400 journeys for “ministerial and associated travel” were made in the year to March compared to 8,200 in 2010-11, finance secretary John Swinney told Scottish Conservatives deputy leader Jackson Carlaw in answer to a Parliamentary question.

Total government spending on cars was also up, from £975,000 to £1.2 million over the same period, with the cost of hire cars trebling to nearly £160,000.

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The Conservatives said the increase had come at a time that the Scottish Government was encouraging people and businesses to reduce their own carbon footprint.

In the latest such move, ministers launched an “active travel” campaign in May to encourage Scots to reduce short car journeys of around two miles or less.

The latest available details of ministerial car trips, for last December, showed numerous short journeys, including those within Edinburgh to and from the Scottish Parliament.

Mr Carlaw said: “On the one hand you have ministers telling people to hop onto their bikes and leave the car at home.

“On the other, their spending on being ferried around in plush vehicles has soared.

“It’s more evidence of a grey-haired, male-dominated front bench, so fatigued by the challenges of government they can’t even face travelling in any other fashion except the extortionate.

“This is a drain on taxpayers, many of whom are being made to feel ashamed by the SNP for simply driving to the supermarket.”

Transport campaigners also criticised the hypocrisy of the Scottish Government.

Transform Scotland director Colin Howden said: “This is truly depressing behaviour by the Scottish ministers, but it’s frankly not surprising given the priority this administration has given to subsidising car use more generally.

“We’re forever being told by the Scottish ministers that they’re leading the world on climate change policy.

“However, this demonstrates their own personal failure to show leadership on reducing emissions.”

There are some signs of changes in ministerial travel, with transport minister Keith Brown significantly increasing the number of his rail journeys after Scotland on Sunday, The Scotsman’s sister paper, revealed last year he had taken the train just four times in his first ten months in office.

The latest available figures, for March to May, show he made 24 rail journeys - four times as many as his ministerial colleagues’ train trips put together.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish Ministers have made every effort to engage with the people of Scotland and undertake engagements throughout the country.

“We continually looks for ways to minimise the use of cars for official journeys and ensure that the Government Car Service (GCS) is delivered in the most cost-effective manner.

“However, GCS costs have been impacted by increasing fuel costs. Ministers car-share whenever practicable.

“Use of private car hire is avoided where possible. The increase in these costs has primarily been because of a lack of driver availability, due to long-term staff sickness.”