Chauffeur just the ticket to avoid unfair fares

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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It is outrageous - but hardly a surprise I suppose - that Simon Burns, the minister responsible for rail fares, should be using a chauffeur-driven Government car to ferry him to work in London from his home in Chelmsford, rather than letting the train take the strain.

The rail journey from Chelmsford to London’s Liverpool Street station takes around 35 minutes, with another paltry journey on the London Underground to take him to his place of work.

If, as transport minister, he chose that option, and used public transport, it would be saving the already hard-pressed taxpayer thousands of pounds a year.

His argument that he was not allowed to use his Red Box on the train for security reasons was demolished by Downing Street.

It said ministers were allowed to work in this way so long as they ensured sensitive material could not be seen by others.

The reason I say it is hardly a surprise he behaves in this extravagant way is that were he recognised by fellow passengers as the man responsible for increasing the price of their tickets, then he might be subject to a certain amount of verbal abuse.

But that is something politicians should have to be prepared to endure.

Even so, plenty of ministers do use public transport and more than one even use a bicycle.

So why doesn’t Downing Street put its foot down and order Burns to walk from his home to the station - about seven minutes, and good for the constitution - and use the regular train service which is quicker than the car anyway, and thus end this cavalier approach to other people’s money?

The newly published Cabinet documents of 30 years ago demonstrate the astonishing access which the disgraced Jimmy Savile had to the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

In his effusive “thank you” letter to her for lunch, Savile wrote (in a reference to Stoke Mandeville orthopaedic hospital):

“My girl patients pretended to be madly jealous and wanted to know what you wore and what you ate. All the paralysed lads called me ‘Sir James’ all week. They all love you. Me too!! Jimmy Savile OBE xxx.”

That sounded to me like a crude and totally unsubtle hint that he deserved a knighthood. Well , if it was, it certainly worked.

For some unaccountable reason, other bits of the correspondence have been censored for another long period of time.

What on earth is the point of that? Why should civil servants have the right to throw a curtain over other sections of the file?