Order order… a taxi for Mr Speaker

Another FOI request fetched the Speaker’s entire transport itinerary for more than a year.

It revealed the Speaker and his wife to have used chauffer-driven cars hundreds of times over the last few months, including journeys within the same postcode that had racked up bills of hundreds of pounds.

Article on the Sunday Times website here, or full text below.

Speaker clocks up £14,000 on hire cars

The taxpayers’ bill includes short hops costing more than £100 a time for the Tory MP who pledged to move away from ‘sleaze and second homes’

Cal Flyn
The Sunday Times, 7 November 2010

When John Bercow, the Tory MP, arrived in the Speaker’s chair 15 months ago he promised to “move on the debate from sleaze and second homes”. Now it can be revealed that he has spent more than £14,000 of taxpayers’ money on hiring cars and drivers.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Times under freedom of information legislation reveal that the new Speaker spent £14,341 on this executive travel, much of it on short hops of a mile or less at more than £100 a time.

Ministers were supposed to give up their chauffeur-driven Jaguars and instead walk or use public transport to the Palace of Westminster as part of David Cameron’s cost-cutting drive.

It does not seem to have affected the Speaker’s office. Bercow, 47, has spent a total of £31,643 of public money on travel since his appointment in June last year.

He has used chauffeur-driven cars on 111 occasions. Of these, 21 were journeys within the London SW1 postcode, where the House of Commons is situated and where he lives with his wife, Sally, 40, and family in a grace and favour apartment under Big Ben.

In five of these short hops he ran up a three-figure bill, including a £151.17 trip with his wife in November last year. A short trip to neighbouring SW7 six days earlier cost the taxpayer £253.17.

His expenses claims describe his mode of transport as “official car” but he has no assigned limousine and the cars are from a hire company. Taking a black cab would have cost about £10 while Addison Lee, the leading private hire firm, said it charges £41 an hour for a car and driver.

The most expensive trip, to Oxford and back, cost £833, while he could have travelled by train for £45 at any time of the day if he had booked a day ahead. He has twice claimed £632.50, once for a trip to the Welsh assembly in Cardiff and on a separate occasion for a visit to Gloucestershire.

Michael Martin, 65, his predecessor as Speaker, had claimed £1,400 on chauffeur-driven cars as a constituency MP, visiting, among other places, Celtic Park, home of Celtic football club. His expenses as Speaker have not been revealed.

Bercow, who earns £146,000 a year and is entitled to a £40,000 a year pension, has also run up bills of £15,600 for business-class flights for himself, his staff and his wife.

Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, said: “I am amazed at the cost of the Speaker’s travel arrangements. He should remember he was elected to be Speaker of the House of Commons, not Speaker for the country. If he wishes to go around the UK speaking, then he should pay for it himself.”

Fiona McEvoy, campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This just shows a total lack of regard for taxpayers’ money. Those who thought politicians were being especially cautious in the wake of the expenses scandal have clearly got it wrong.”

Martin resigned over the MPs’ expenses scandal. He had previously spent £1.7m on refurbishments to his official residence and garden.

The Bercows have yet to sit down with samples of hand-painted wallpaper but they have spent £45,000 of taxpayers’ money refurbishing their apartment, which has views over the Thames. They said they needed to redecorate because their son Ollie, who is autistic, was disturbed by the red decor.

If the property was ever available on the open market it could command a rent of at least £20,000 a month.

Earlier this year a satellite television system was installed in the apartment at a cost of £1,390.64, after a request from Sally Bercow for a larger television and a Sky system.

Bercow’s spokeswoman said: “The Speaker does not have an official car but uses public transport or a private car and driver hired from a competitively priced firm when travelling on official business. Often when he uses a hired car he is visiting more than one location, is travelling with a number of staff and on a tight schedule.”

She added: “The Speaker fully accepts that his own budget, like that of parliament in general, is having to be carefully reviewed to help meet the public sector’s obligations to reduce spending.

“When travelling in central London and elsewhere he will be attempting to keep costs to the minimum, while following basic security advice.”

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