This is how much you’re paying for the Government to drive briefcases around London

Support us and go ad-free

In the last five years, government documents have been chauffer-driven around London in limousines, by themselves, to the tune of £350,000.

This staggering figure was revealed by a Freedom of Information request by Huffington Post UK. They were investigating whether the promise of a crackdown on government inefficiency made by then Tory MP Francis Maude in 2011 had really taken effect. Maude was, at the time, the minister in charge of civil service reform in a government embarking on a huge austerity programme of spending cuts that would hit the public hard.

In 2010, the coalition government had taken office also promising to impose austerity measures that cut down on their own inefficiency. Shortly afterward, Michael Gove’s wife Sarah Vine revealed the extent of the absurdity of “despatch box movements” in her Telegraph column.

[The Red Box] arrives unannounced at all hours in a chauffeur-driven car, the engine purring deferentially as her handler walks her to the front door..she deposits herself on the sofa to await her master.

My husband is free to travel home by Tube, taxi, bicycle or carrier pigeon, but the RB must arrive in air-conditioned splendour, snug and secure in the back of a locked car.

The official justification for such a wasteful practice is that government documents contain sensitive information requiring the utmost secrecy and security. While this is no doubt a significant consideration for some documents, when discussing his intention to crack down on government inefficiency Maude himself admitted:

Security is often an alibi […] Of course we have got to have security but we often massively overestimate (the problems).

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Also revealing that the security issues perhaps wasn’t as urgent as might be argued, Sarah Vine said:

Government sources said that ministers were able to carry their red boxes on public transport. The only stipulation is that confidential papers should not be read in public.

So why can’t documents be transported by bike, by hand, by taxi, or by email, rather than by an air-conditioned limousine in London traffic at £125 per journey?

Shadow Deputy PM Tom Watson claimed this to be yet another indication of how out of touch the Conservative government is, especially for one who “boasts loudly and regularly about cutting waste and reducing red tape”.

In 2011, Maude was encouraging government workers to use smartphones rather than paper to organise and share work after an encounter with Estonia’s government impressed him. On a trip to the cabinet of the Estonian government, he found ministers all using screens rather than notes. Of his smartphone, he said:

All my work emails are on this. This is my red box.

While no data is given, despite requests, for the year 2011/12, government documents reveal that ‘despatch box movements’ actually increased from 527 in 2012/13 to 577 the following year, and then a final massive jump to 826 in 2014/15. So either little appears to have been done about this particular waste of government resources, or what has been done has not been successful.

In an age of encryption – which the government can certainly employ if they want to, although they’re not happy about us having it – there’s no reason why the majority of documents couldn’t be sent via email. Other options such as bike messengers might be an idea if the government is truly serious about saving money, saving energy, and minimising its contribution to pollution and waste.

Or, ministers could just take their red boxes on the Tube, as long as they can resist the impulse to read the documents out loud to their carriage.

Get involved!

Write to your MP about government waste (by email).

Support independent media.

Image via Flickr/YuyaTamai

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us

Comments are closed