SNP minister Michael Matheson racked up £8,000 data bill on iPad in one day
A senior SNP minister is facing further questions after it emerged he racked up more than £8,000 of data roaming charges on his parliamentary iPad during just one day while on holiday.
Michael Matheson, the health secretary, incurred a fee of almost £11,000 during a week-long visit to Morocco over the New Year, after failing to switch his device to a new data provider.
He agreed to reimburse the huge bill at the end of last week after coming under sustained pressure, but critics say questions remain.
A breakdown of the bill published by the Scottish Parliament shows he used 6.08GB of data during the holiday, costing £10,935.74 in total. Two charges are listed for January 2, which was a bank holiday. The first cost more than £7,300 for 3.18GB of data, while the second cost £1,320 for 710.89MB.
Opposition politicians were quick to point out this was the date of an Old Firm football match. Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: "Mr Matheson must come clean over whether he or his family used his parliamentary devices to watch the football before his actions blow the full-time whistle on his ministerial career."
Mr Matheson provided written assurances to the Scottish Parliament that all use was for parliamentary purposes. He has also repeatedly told journalists the bill was incurred doing parliamentary work. The SNP did not respond to a request for Mr Matheson to explicitly rule out watching football.
Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “The release of Michael Matheson’s data usage while he was sunning himself in Morocco is utterly jaw-dropping. It only further highlights the serious questions the SNP health secretary has miserably failed to answer since this scandal first broke.”
He added: “Speculation will now go into overdrive as to how Michael Matheson racked up this £11,000 roaming bill and whether he was viewing non-political material, particularly on January 2 – a public holiday – when the usage sky-rocketed.
“The only way he will allay the suspicion and rumours is by handing over his iPad so that the browser history can be examined and his claim that the charges were accrued only on parliamentary work can be verified.
“Serious questions remain too for parliamentary authorities as well when they took Michael Matheson at his word over this eye-watering bill. These charges clearly go against guidelines on expenses delivering best value for money.”
The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), a cross-party group of MSPs, said it had instructed Holyrood officials to conduct an urgent review of the Parliament’s policies on mobile devices and data roaming charges for MSPs. This will include options on disabling sim cards, a mandatory opt-in to data roaming bundles, and personal liability for MSPs where the Parliament’s procedures have not been followed.
Alison Johnstone, the presiding officer, said: "This is an issue which I and the SPCB take very seriously. We must be in a position where we have reviewed and tightened all policies to ensure the present situation cannot happen again.”
She said Mr Matheson had “acknowledged he failed to update his Sim card and incurred significant charges, which he has now agreed to meet in full”. She said: “The review will give officials and the SPCB greater ability to intervene where members have not followed guidance.”
Mr Matheson was reportedly warned almost a year earlier to update his device, which had not been switched to Holyrood’s new data provider.
He initially said he would contribute £3,000 towards the cost from his expenses budget while the Scottish Parliament paid the rest. But opposition politicians insisted taxpayers should not have to foot the bill.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.