SNP ministers who live in the north have been accused of taking advantage of their lavish limo service by taking long journeys between their first and second homes.
The Scottish Government says the taxpayer-funded car service “provides a secure environment to conduct government business while travelling to and from ministerial engagements”.
Ministers can also travel to or from a personal address at the start or the end of the working day.
READ MORE: SNP spent almost £1m of taxpayer cash on chauffeur-driven ministerial car journeys last year
However, the Scottish Sunday Express has found that several ministers whose constituencies are in the Highlands – and therefore qualify for an Edinburgh second home – are also using their chauffeur-driven cars to shuttle back and forth on days when no engagements appear to be taking place.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, Rural Economy Secretary Mairi Gougeon, public health minister Maree Todd, mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart and just transition minister Richard Lochhead are among those to take advantage of the loophole this year alone.
Ms Forbes – who is currently on maternity leave – has made nine 170-mile journeys between her second home in Edinburgh and her main home in Dingwall.
On each occasion, the chauffeur presumably had to make a two-way trip as the car service is based in the capital.
Ms Todd has used a government limo for 19 journeys of 175 miles between Strathpeffer and Edinburgh, while Ms Gougeon has taken 13 journeys of 88 miles between Brechin and Edinburgh.
Mr Stewart has taken six journeys between Aberdeen and Edinburgh (128 miles) and Mr Lochhead took a limo between Elgin and Edinburgh on one occasion this year (172 miles).
All five take advantage of the Edinburgh Second Home Allowance, which allows MSPs who live up north or down south to rent a home in the capital with all expenses paid.
There are regular trains between Edinburgh and Aberdeen and Brechin, while Elgin and Dingwall are also on the rail network.
The MSPs could also drive themselves and claim back the mileage, saving the chauffeur a two-way journey.
Critics called for the practice to stop immediately and branded it an ‘insult’ to Scots suffering from a growing cost of living crisis.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Chauffeur perks for politicians drive taxpayers round the bend.
“Some travel will be required in government roles, but ministerial cars are only meant to be used when necessary.
“With the cost of living crisis biting, ministers must not make excessive use of these luxury limos.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Transport, Graham Simpson, said: “This will stick in the throat of hard-pressed Scots. Government limos aren’t there for the private use of SNP ministers. It’s fair enough to use them for Government business but not to get to and from private addresses, so this kind of practice needs to stop immediately.”
Scottish Labour Finance spokesperson Daniel Johnson, added: “Taxpayers are footing an eye-watering bill for SNP Ministers to be chauffeured around from one house to another. This is an insult when ordinary people are struggling with the cost of living crisis and the SNP are cutting services to the bone. Next time the SNP are deciding which budget to raid, they should take a look at their own bloated government operation.”
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government defended the spend of almost £1million on the ministerial cars in 2021/22 – and made it clear how they are supposed to be used. They said: “Travel is an essential part of official government business and with the recent easing of Covid restrictions more ministerial business has been conducted in person.
“The Government Car Service provides a secure environment to conduct government business while travelling to and from ministerial engagements. We continually look for ways to ensure the Government Car Service is delivered in the most cost-effective manner, offering the best deal to the taxpayer.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Travel is an essential part of official Government business and Ministerial cars are used for business purposes only. Ministers take their responsibility to travel sustainably very seriously and aim to use more sustainable forms of transport wherever possible.”
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Read More: SNP ministers use chauffeur-driven cars for trips between first and second homes