20/04/2016 07:36 BST

Government Spends £350,000 On Delivering Only Briefcases In Chauffeur-Driven Cars

Taxpayers foot £150 charge for each "red box" solo ride

The Government has spent more than £350,000 on chauffeur driving only ministerial briefcases around Whitehall in the last five years, HuffPost UK has found.

It cost on average £125 each time documents - and no passengers - were ferried between government departments and a minister's home at its peak, a response to Freedom of Information request has revealed.

The disclosure follows HuffPost UK reporting in January how state-funded limos moved papers and boxes around in “air-conditioned splendour” almost 2,000 times since 2012.

Critics questioned why politics remains devoted to paper in the era of email and encryption.

But the Department for Transport (DfT) pointed to a "substantial reduction" in the cost of so-called "despatch box movements". A total cost of £110,865 in 2012-13 had been slashed to £41,520 by 2015-16.

However, the figures released only relate to bookings made by Whitehall departments to the Government Car Service (GCS), the agency that oversees transport.

The total excludes any movements made by pool cars stationed at Whitehall offices that are not assigned to a specific minister.

The DfT could neither confirm nor deny whether Departmental Pool Cars, which were introduced in 2012, are allowed to carry ministerial papers. If they could, it suggests the total cost is higher.

The cost to run Departmental Pool Cars are not cheap. For three years from 2012-13, 20 cars ran up charges of £5.9 million.

Response to HuffPost UK Freedom of Information request revealing how "despatch box movements" - ferrying papers alone by car - was costing £125.14 each time in 2012-13. Despite a crackdown the costs rose again in 2014-15.

Secretaries of State and junior ministers all have “boxes” filled with civil service briefing papers and documents to be read and signed.

In 2011, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, in charge of civil service reform, said the Government was moving towards paperless working - even arguing the security rationale behind using hard copies rather than email was often used as an “alibi”.

With austerity biting, David Cameron told ministers in 2010 to use public transport where possible to cut costs.

But newspaper columnist Sarah Vine, wife of Cabinet minister Michael Gove, revealed the farce behind the plan, admitting papers were still being taken around in “air-conditioned splendour”: "My husband is free to travel home by Tube, taxi, bicycle or carrier pigeon, but the (box) must arrive in air-conditioned splendour, snug and secure in the back of a locked car."

Labour MP Graham Jones told HuffPost UK: “This is a shocking amount of money to spend at a time when families across the country are struggling to make ends meet.

"The Tories said they’d clamp down on wasteful spending yet they still allow hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to be spent ferrying round briefcases in chauffeur-driven cars.”‎

David Cameron pictured in his ministerial car with "red box". Papers were carried around on their own almost 2,000 times over three years.

In 2012/13, drivers transported documents around SW1 on 527 occasions. That jumped to 577 the next year and to 826 times in 2014/15.

The Department for Transport said: "We are committed to continuing to reduce the cost to the taxpayer of the provision of ministerial cars under the reform programme initiated by the coalition government.

"The figures above show a substantial reduction in the total cost of despatch box movements made through bookings with GCS since 2011/12, and the total cost of these bookings since 2011/12 has been less than 5% of the total spending by government departments each year with the GCS.

"Further, in terms of total spending by departments with GCS, in 2014/15 departments incurred total charges for use of ministerial cars of £1.9 million, a 72% reduction from the £6.7 million incurred in 2009/10."

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