HOLYROOD is being urged to launch an investigation into how Michael Matheson ran up a bill of almost £11,000 for using his iPad on holiday amid calls for the money to be paid back from his own pocket.
Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy called for the probe at the end of First Minister’s Questions this afternoon after the revelations were reported by the press last night.
Putting up the bill was being “picked up entirely be the taxpayer”, Mr Hoy pointed out: “For clarity that is £65 an hour, 24 hours a day for the seven days he was on holiday in far flung Morocco.
“This incident has damaged the reputation of the Scottish Parliament and it is incumbent on you Presiding Officer to repair and defend this.
“Therefore I urge you to conduct a full investigation into this matter including publishing the full bill that was incurred by Mr Matheson…why the parliament has appeared to break its own rules of a cap of £200 on roaming charges by paying the bill entirely.
“And exploring whether Mr Matheson himself has broken any parliamentary rules by claiming for such a large sum.”
He added: “Parliament seeks your advice Presiding Officer and our constituents seek your reassurance.”
The Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone replied that if Mr Hoy was to write to her on the matter she would respond.
The health secretary, who is MSP for Falkirk West, accumulated the fees on his parliamentary iPad, which had not been switched over to a new contract.
The £10,936 bill was charged by the Scottish Parliament’s previous mobile provider, which declined to waive any of the charges after being challenged over its late warning about the rising cost.
Holyrood authorities say they are satisfied the iPad was being used for parliamentary business and not for personal or government purposes, and so will pay most of the cost.
Mr Matheson’s office will contribute £3,000, with parliament paying the £7,936 remainder.
Speaking to the press after FMQs, Mr Matheson declined to say what parliamentary and or constituency work he was doing in Morocco.
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, yesterday described Mr Matheson’s charges as “mind-boggling” and said the Scottish public should not have to “pick up this eye-watering bill”.
She said: “What on earth could Mr Matheson have been doing to justify the public coughing up for this? The SNP is on a different planet when it comes to wasting taxpayers’ cash.”
An SNP spokesman said yesterday: “This was a legitimate parliamentary expense to cover constituency work while overseas. Mr Matheson was not aware of the problem with his device at the time, which has since been resolved.”
A Scottish parliament spokesman said: “Substantial roaming charges were incurred by Mr Matheson on his parliamentary iPad while in Morocco at the start of this year. As the member was still using the parliament’s previous mobile provider, and hadn’t yet switched to our present contract, he incurred significant data fees over and above its ‘rest of the world’ tariff rate.“The parliament challenged the company over the scale of the data fees – which totalled £10,935.74 — and over the late warning to the rising cost, but the company declined to meet or waive any of the charges.
“On the basis that the member has assured the parliament that these costs were incurred in relation to parliamentary business and not for personal or government use, we agreed that Mr Matheson would contribute £3,000 from his office cost provision and the remainder would be paid centrally by the parliament.”
Mr Matheson’s bill for using his iPad in Morocco comes days after expense claims by MSPs hit a record high of £23.5 million, a rise of 5.5%, or £1.2 million, on the year before.