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by Margaret Taylor
13 December 2023
Don't run up huge roaming bill on holiday like Michael Matheson, MSPs told

Health secretary Michael Matheson ran up an £11,000 bill while on holiday in Morocco | Alamy

Don't run up huge roaming bill on holiday like Michael Matheson, MSPs told

The Scottish Parliament’s IT department has written to all MSPs offering guidance on how not to run up a massive data-roaming bill if they are going on holiday this Christmas.

In an email titled ‘Planning to travel abroad this Christmas?’, the parliamentary body told members that if they are “travelling abroad this Christmas and intending to use your phone while not connected to Wi-Fi, you must let the IT Helpdesk know now so that an appropriate roaming bundle can be applied”.

It comes after a scandal involving health secretary Michael Matheson, who ran up an £11,000 roaming bill on his parliamentary iPad while on a family holiday to Morocco during the festive period last year.

Matheson incurred the huge bill because he had not changed the SIM card in his device when parliament switched its contract from EE to Vodafone the year before.

Although the parliament sets a limit of £200 on roaming charges, it initially agreed to foot the full bill, with £3,000 coming out of Matheson’s own expenses budget and the remainder from his department. Following an outcry, the health secretary agreed to pay the sum back himself.

Opposition parties have repeatedly called for Matheson to resign over the matter, in particular because he lied about what the device had been used for.

Matheson initially claimed it had only been used for constituency business, but after a Freedom of Information request revealed that £7,000 of the total was racked up in a single day he made a statement to parliament in which he said the bill was incurred due to his children using his iPad's data to watch a football match.

The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body has launched an investigation into the matter, with the probe expected to last until January next year.

In its note to MSPs, the parliament warned members to be aware that roaming charges will apply in “European destinations which are no longer covered under domestic tariffs” following Brexit.

It said parliament must be informed about any travel plans “at least two working days” ahead of departure to ensure an affordable plan can be put in place.

“Failure to do so will result in expensive out of tariff charges or loss of connection,” it wrote.

“If you are on a cruise or do not have a bundle applied, please switch off your phone or put it on airplane mode and connect to Wi-Fi.”

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