Rail minister ‘dodges commuter trains’

By politics.co.uk staff

A Tory transport minister's excuses for using dodging the commuter trains he is responsible for appear to have been defeated by government press officers.

Rail minister Simon Burns defended his decision to use his ministerial car for the 35-mile journey from his home in Chelmsford to Westminster by saying he requires privacy – as he is working on classified documents.

Burns was backed by the Department for Transport (DfT), which said he used his commute "to work on official papers".

A spokesperson explained: "The ministerial code permits ministers to use official cars for home-to-office journeys within a reasonable distance of London when they are working on classified papers."

But the Cabinet Office spokesperson told the Mail on Sunday: "Ministerial boxes can be used by ministers when travelling. However, the boxes and papers should not be left unattended."

The newspaper uncovered disquiet with Burns' use of a car within the DfT, which like other government departments has seen cutbacks in the use of ministerial cars under the coalition's spending cuts drive.

Burns is driven to and from work in a Toyota Avensis, which cost £25,000. The only other ministerial car available for the department is a Land Rover Discovery, which is mostly used by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

"If the transport department needs a pool car during the day, the chances are that it will be Mr McLoughlin's Land Rover," a senior Whitehall source told the newspaper.

"The Avensis always seems to be on the A12 to or from Essex: the reality is that Mr Burns has effectively commandeered it."

McLoughlin and fellow junior ministers Norman Baker and Stephen Hammond all commute to Westminster by train.

A friend of Burns told the Mail on Sunday: "He gets up at 5am, often does not get back home until late at night and believes it is totally unfair to criticise him for coming to work in a government car.

"He is not allowed to work on his red box in the train but can do so in the car and is one of the hardest-working ministers in the government."