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by Margaret Taylor
10 November 2023
Parliament reveals details of investigation into health secretary's £11,000 mobile bill

Health secretary Michael Matheson ran up the bill while on holiday in Morocco | Alamy

Parliament reveals details of investigation into health secretary's £11,000 mobile bill

Conservative chairman Craig Hoy has called for a parliamentary investigation after the taxpayer was left to pay an £11,000 mobile phone bill accumulated by health secretary Michael Matheson during a week-long holiday in Morocco.

Matheson racked up the £10,936 fee on his parliamentary iPad during a family break last Christmas.

He has agreed to pay £3,000 of the bill from his own expenses budget while the remainder will be paid for by the Scottish Parliament and will come out of his own department’s budget.

During today’s session of First Minister’s Questions, Hoy raised a point of order with Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, asking her to investigate whether parliament had broken its own rules on roaming charges by agreeing to pay the bill.

"Last night it was reported that an MSP in this chamber racked up a bill of £11,000 through data-roaming charges whilst on holiday, a tab that has been picked up entirely by the taxpayer," he said.

"For clarity, that's £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, to explore 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.

"Parliament seeks your advice, Presiding Officer, and our constituents seek your reassurance."

In response, Johnstone told Hoy the matter did not constitute a point of order but added that if he "wishes to write to me on this matter, I will provide a response".

Though Matheson was on holiday at the time the charges were incurred, he said he was using the iPad for constituency work.

A spokesperson for the parliament said the bill was so large because members were in the process of moving to a new mobile provider but that Matheson was on an old contract. The original provider refused to waive any of the fee despite not providing early warning about the scale of the mounting bill.

"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," they said.

"The parliament challenged the company over the scale of the data fees 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."

Later, a spokesperson added: "The circumstances of Mr Matheson’s data charges were investigated by a senior member of the parliament’s IT office in January this year.  This included a review of the data volume consumed, the daily pricing charges and the company’s application of tariffs. The investigation also confirmed that Mr Matheson had not updated his i-pad’s sim card to the new provider as required, or notified the IT office before travelling, so that the appropriate roaming package could be applied. 

"At the conclusion of the investigation senior officials accepted Mr Matheson’s assurances that all costs incurred were for parliamentary purposes.   

"Following the close of the financial year, it was agreed by parliament’s senior management, in September 2023, that the events of this incident should lead to a policy review of mobile data usage. 

"The policy review will include consideration of the potential for members to be personally liable for costs where they have not acted in full accordance with IT office requirements.  That review will be completed before the end of this financial year (end March 2024).

"In addition to reviewing the policy, the parliament will shortly award a new mobile contract that will enhance technical controls to ensure there is no repeat of these substantial data charges."

Speaking to journalists following FMQs, Matheson said he had not been aware the the SIM card in his iPad had not been repalced when using it on holiday.

"The roaming charges were incurred as a result of an outdated SIM card that was in an iPad I had for constituency purposes, a parliamentary iPad," he said.

"The outdated SIM card hadn’t been replaced; I was unaware that it hadn’t been replaced. The cost built up as a result of that."

Asked whether Matheson should repay the charges incurred out of his own pocket, First Minister Humza Yousaf said: "No."

A government spokesperson later added that it is "entirely a parliamentary matter".

Additional reporting by Patrick Entwistle.

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