Now SNP minister is SHAMED into paying back £11,000 holiday iPad bill

Now SNP minister is SHAMED into paying back £11,000 holiday iPad bill

  • Smirking health secretary forced into U-turn just hours after Humza backed him 
  • Tory blast at his ‘arrogance and contempt for public purse’ 

Scotland’s health secretary was yesterday shamed into paying back an ‘eye-watering’ £11,000 data roaming bill that he claimed on expenses.

Michael Matheson was forced into the humiliating U-turn after being accused of ‘arrogance and contempt’ in claiming back the charges, racked up on a parliamentary iPad during a family holiday in Morocco.

The climbdown came hours after Humza Yousaf had insisted that his minister should not have to repay the ‘legitimate parliamentary expense’. 

Mr Matheson initially claimed the bill had been run up as he carried out ‘constituency work while overseas’.

 Smirking minister Michael Matheson pays back £11k iPad bill 

But as details of how he had ignored official Holyrood advice on how to avoid hefty data roaming charges emerged and demands grew for an official parliamentary probe, Mr Matheson finally agreed to pay back the full amount of £10,935.74.

Earlier in the week he refused to apologise for the exorbitant bill when approached by the Mail.

On Thursday, he smirked during a point of order at Holyrood when Tory MSP Craig Hoy said the incident ‘has damaged the reputation of the Scottish parliament’.

Questions were also raised as to why the health secretary was allowed to claim back almost £11,000 when parliament had capped roaming expenses claims at £200.

Mr Matheson said he had ‘reflected long and hard’ on his decision to repay the money, adding that he had ‘always striven’ to be a diligent MSP.

Scottish Tory chairman Mr Hoy said: ‘Michael Matheson has belatedly been shamed into repaying a bill that he had the audacity to expect the taxpayer to foot.

‘His arrogance and contempt for the public purse was clear from his refusal to follow parliament guidelines and inform IT staff that he was travelling abroad.

‘This is not the end of the matter. Michael Matheson has to address the many serious unanswered questions over this scandal having notably refused to do so when confronted by journalists on Thursday.

‘We still need to hear a personal statement from the health secretary in parliament, and I call on him to publish the original roaming charges statement from the network provider.’

He added: ‘This also calls into question the judgment of Humza Yousaf who, just 24 hours ago, claimed that this was a legitimate expenses claim and that his health secretary shouldn’t repay a penny.’

In a statement, Mr Matheson said: ‘I have contacted the Scottish parliament authorities this afternoon to make arrangements to reimburse the full cost of the £10,935.74 incurred in roaming charges on my parliament iPad. 

While the parliament agreed to pay the bulk of this sum as a legitimate expense, with the rest being met from my office allowance, I have reflected long and hard and accept that the sim card on this device should have been replaced at an earlier stage.’

He added: ‘Much of the speculation in the past couple of days has questioned my integrity, and I take this extremely seriously. 

I take equally seriously the reputation of the Scottish parliament, of which I have always striven to be a diligent member since its restoration in 1999. 

It is my decision to reimburse these costs in full, which I believe in all the circumstances to be the right one.’

Despite the minister’s pledge to repay the money, Holyrood’s Presiding Officer is facing calls to investigate the expenses claim.

In June 2018, Mr Matheson was told, along with other MSPs, that the parliament ‘will only cover roaming costs up to £200, and the individual will be responsible for anything beyond this’. 

It has also been revealed that Mr Matheson ignored instructions to both switch his sim card over and alert the parliament’s IT team to his travel plans, which would have prevented the eye-watering bill.

All MSPs were sent a reminder on June 28 last year that stated: ‘If you are travelling outside European roaming zones and planning to use your phone while not connected to wi-fi, you must let the IT helpdesk know so that an appropriate roaming bundle can be applied. 

Failure to do so will result in expensive out of tariff charges.’

If Mr Matheson had followed the instructions, it would have cost £6 per day for unlimited calls and texts to the UK and 500 megabytes of data, according to another email previously sent to the minister. 

This message, headed ‘FOR ACTION’, explained that the parliament needed to contact the network provider to apply ‘competitive rates for using mobile data and voice abroad’.

Holyrood officials confirmed that Mr Matheson was told he had to change the sim cards in his mobile phone and iPad from EE to Vodafone in February 2021.

A parliament source said: ‘His mobile phone sim was successfully switched to Vodafone during the migration process – it is highly likely he would have been reminded in person that his iPad also needed to be switched.

‘During the migration process MSPs who had still to switch sims were being reminded in person by IT staff in the Garden Lobby – it is likely Mr Matheson would have again been reminded in this way.’

Mr Hoy wrote to Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone yesterday requesting a ‘full investigation into why and how [the parliament] agreed to pay Michael Matheson’s eye-watering bill’.

On Thursday evening, a Holyrood spokesman said that the spending had been looked into by an IT technician, but no explanation was given as to why the expenses claim was approved.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: ‘It’s right that Michael Matheson has coughed up to cover his huge data bill of almost £11,000 rather than placing the burden on taxpayers, but it shouldn’t have been such a saga.

‘This is an arrogant and failing government that is out of touch with Scots. It’s time for change.’

When he was asked on Thursday if Mr Matheson should repay the money, Mr Yousaf said: ‘No, the parliamentary authorities have already confirmed it was a legitimate parliamentary expense.’

The saga has forced Holyrood officials to overhaul their policy for mobile phones and tablets.

A spokesman said: ‘It was agreed by parliament’s senior management, in September 2023, that the events of this incident should lead to a policy review of mobile data usage. 

The policy review will include consideration of the potential for Members to be personally liable for costs where they have not acted in full accordance with IT office requirements.’

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