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Could use my own bike, says new Home Office minister - but it’s a matter of principle

The newly appointed Home Office minister Norman Baker has refused the privilege of a chauffeur driven car to drive him the few hundred yards from the department to the Commons - asking instead for a ‘ministerial bicycle’.

But civil servants have refused the request, saying that it would be an ‘unacceptable burden’ on the taxpayer - despite the bill for chauffeuring Home Office ministers already hitting £136,000 a year.

Mr Baker, a Lib Dem MP whose colourful views led to widespread shock when he was appointed to the Home Office under Theresa May, told the Mail on Sunday it was a “ridiculous, Yes Ministerish jobsworth” approach. 

“I object to the fact that they are trying to put me into a car with a chauffeur against my will,’ he said.

“I pointed out that it would be much quicker and cheaper for me to cycle. But they said that while the car was already paid for, providing a bike would be an additional cost to the taxpayer. It’s nonsense. 

‘It would be cheaper and also better for the environment.

“I could provide my own bike, but I regard it is a matter of principle.”

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘Providing bicycles would mean additional and unnecessary cost to the department when arrangements are already in place. For short journeys, and where practicable, Ministers can walk or use public transport.’

The response to Mr Baker is in direct opposition to a pre-election pledge from the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

As we reported at the time, government ministers cycling around Whitehall would become a regular sight should the Conservative Party win the forthcoming General Election, Mr Cameron said in early 2010.

According to reports, Shadow Transport Minister Robert Goodwill, who has been been tasked with slashing government car service spending by £6 million in the event of a Tory win, said: “Unless they have a good reason – such as carrying lots of ministerial boxes or security – we will expect Tory Ministers to consider using bicycles to get around Westminster and Whitehall. Ministers can always put their paperwork in a backpack.”

Mr Cameron, used the fact he cycles around London to reinforce his green credentials when he first became party leader but was subsequently revealed to have a car following him round with his briefcase.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.

25 comments

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davkt [41 posts] 2 years ago
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Hmm,
So it is a matter of principal that the tax payer should supply him with a bike? Sounds like a the usual sense of entitlement from our elected representatives especially given, no matter how inappropriate, the cars are already paid for. He wants to do do something to improve his standing in the public eye but he wants us to pay for it!

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teaboy [311 posts] 2 years ago
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No - he wants to break the culture of car travel for short journeys. This is a good thing. Had he just said "no, I'll use my bike" the current absurdity of chauffeur-driven ministers travelling a few hundred metres would not have been highlighted again.

Why the hell are other ministers spending £136,000 every year on journeys that can and should be made by bicycle?

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leqin [169 posts] 2 years ago
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Couldn't he pay for the bike from his pay raise - he ought to be able to afford at least a Colnago or Pinarello in order to make this short journey and with 11% he's got coming his way he can even afford the upkeep at some high end retailer...  14

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OldRidgeback [2616 posts] 2 years ago
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leqin wrote:

Couldn't he pay for the bike from his pay raise - he ought to be able to afford at least a Colnago or Pinarello in order to make this short journey and with 11% he's got coming his way he can even afford the upkeep at some high end retailer...  14

He's already got a bike. But this is a matter of principle and he says he wants the new one to be able to use it for short trips. He's making a point here and I suspect he knows he doesn't really need the new one as his existing bike. I think he rides a Brompton, as that's what I've seen him turn up on for the two press events I've attended where he's been a speaker. A new one will still cost somewhat less than paying for the chauffeur driven limousine he'd be entitle to. He is making a point, and a good one, that ministers could ditch the cars for these stupidly short trips.

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teaboy [311 posts] 2 years ago
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leqin wrote:

Couldn't he pay for the bike from his pay raise - he ought to be able to afford at least a Colnago or Pinarello in order to make this short journey and with 11% he's got coming his way he can even afford the upkeep at some high end retailer...  14

Couldn't we save £130,000 a year by giving every MP a new bike and removing the chauffeur-driven cars? If cars are needed I'm sure MPs could use their own, or get a taxi.

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bici1977 [42 posts] 2 years ago
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I think a couple of people havent understood the point Norman Baker is trying to make here. He is not after a new bike, he wants that the department gives him the freedom of choice of transport.

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MrGear [87 posts] 2 years ago
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I for one, would not begrudge him putting Boris bike hire tickets on his expenses. As long as he doesn't plan on riding to Ventoux or The Gambia and clocking up any fines.

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jimmyd [108 posts] 2 years ago
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Seems to be a lack of common sense on both sides really. But I guess both sides are trying to make a point resulting in a rather childish stalemate!

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tourdelound [157 posts] 2 years ago
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Cycle to Work scheme anyone?  21

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PJ McNally [591 posts] 2 years ago
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Good for him. It's not enough for him simply to ride his bike - he has a responsibility to draw attention to flawed policies like these. Keep it up!

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Paul M [360 posts] 2 years ago
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leqin wrote:

Couldn't he pay for the bike from his pay raise - he ought to be able to afford at least a Colnago or Pinarello in order to make this short journey and with 11% he's got coming his way he can even afford the upkeep at some high end retailer...  14

The misunderstanding of the proposed MP's pay rise seems to be pretty pervasive.

Let me lay it out for you

- Yes, MPs are getting a substantial pay rise, but
- They have had no pay rise at all for some years
- They are losing entitlement to severance pay when they stand down, from now on they will only get it if they stand for re-election and are defeated
- they are losing their non-contributory index-linked pensions. Instead their pensions will be contributory and like other civil servants the benefits are being slashed
- They are also having more restrictions on the expenses they can claim, especially with regard to second homes

Overall, the package is not adding to the cost of MPs, and it is making their remuneration and expenses arrangements more transparent.

I think Baker has done good work in highlighting the absurdity of the position his civil servants are taking. As for the "we have paid for it already" - not entirely true. The government no longer maintains its own fleet of chauffeur-driven cars, rather it has outsourced the job - to Addison Lee, I think. I am sure that it would be quite simple to reduce the usage level to some extent within the contract.

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A V Lowe [575 posts] 2 years ago
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"Shadow Transport Minister Robert Goodwill" shome mishtake shurely!

Robert Goodwill simple put his Brompton in the space vacated at DfT by Norman Baker.

No invite the Bath Conservatives New Year bash for you m'lad

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A V Lowe [575 posts] 2 years ago
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Good for Norman though, clearly there is the hand of a 'Sir Humphrey' at work here keen to preserve the status quo, and keep the income of the suppliers of Government limousines intact.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1191 posts] 2 years ago
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Perhaps he should ask for a tandem and a bike-chauffeur to do the pedaling? Then at least he won't be doing a ministerial driver out of a job.

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Northernbike [229 posts] 2 years ago
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FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

Perhaps he should ask for a tandem and a bike-chauffeur to do the pedaling? Then at least he won't be doing a ministerial driver out of a job.

I'll look forward to the police federation trying to make that set up go through the pedestrian gate at Downing Street

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airborneyellow [8 posts] 2 years ago
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Headline: “Norman Baker calls for ‘ministerial bicycle’ over chauffeur driven car - but is refused”

Translation: "aspiring politician opportunistically hits upon yet another self-promotion device which he hopes will differentiate him from the herd, align him with the zeitgeist and get some personal publicity"

.. Ker-chiing!

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michielh [6 posts] 2 years ago
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Isn't there the cycle2work scheme he can use. On the same token, a real saving would come from civil servant thinning.

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mr-andrew [300 posts] 2 years ago
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I really hope cycling takes off amongst MPs - personally I can't wait to see Eric Pickles on a Brompton...

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Dark_Wolf [47 posts] 2 years ago
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Well, as a Taxpayer I approve of his request for a bicycle. Totally agree with it! Yet again the government making a sham out of supporting cycling.

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NIrish [20 posts] 2 years ago
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As much as my inital response was going to be cycle 2 work, the report makes a very good point here...

...the couple hundred yards between office and downing street...

Walk it man, your legs are free, though im sure we the tax payers have some upkeep to them aswell.

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Sara_H [58 posts] 2 years ago
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Whilst I admire Mr Bakers stance on shunning the chauffeur driven car, I don't understand why he needs a ministerial bicycle.

I have to ride between appointments in my job within the NHS. Most colleagues take a taxi, but if it's less than 5 miles (which it usually is) I take my bike (my own bike, not a bike provided by the NHS!).

Saves the NHS my taxi fare, gives me a bit of exersize during the working day - it's a win/win situation.

Maybe Mr Baker should devote his energy's to campaigning for a fleet of bikes for those ministers who don't own a bike already to reduce the use of the ministerial cars? Boris Bikes for ministers - maybe they could be called Cameron's Car Dodgers?

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Sara_H [58 posts] 2 years ago
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mr-andrew wrote:

I really hope cycling takes off amongst MPs - personally I can't wait to see Eric Pickles on a Brompton...

Goodness me! Do they make reinforced Bromptons?

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Bikebikebike [217 posts] 2 years ago
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Whilst pretty much everything else Norman Baker has ever said on the subject has been tosh, this is a sensible and just principle. Hopefully this will mark the start of a run of good stuff from Mr Baker, rather than just a blip in his so-far abysmal record.

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teaboy [311 posts] 2 years ago
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Sara_H wrote:

Whilst I admire Mr Bakers stance on shunning the chauffeur driven car, I don't understand why he needs a ministerial bicycle.

I have to ride between appointments in my job within the NHS. Most colleagues take a taxi, but if it's less than 5 miles (which it usually is) I take my bike (my own bike, not a bike provided by the NHS!).

Saves the NHS my taxi fare, gives me a bit of exersize during the working day - it's a win/win situation.

Maybe Mr Baker should devote his energy's to campaigning for a fleet of bikes for those ministers who don't own a bike already to reduce the use of the ministerial cars? Boris Bikes for ministers - maybe they could be called Cameron's Car Dodgers?

He doesn't 'need' a bicycle, but then he and other ministers don't 'need' chauffeur-driven cars paid for by the public, and he has one of those.

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ironmancole [322 posts] 2 years ago
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Further evidence of this government taking cycling really seriously. Can you imagine if the government took the same level of seriousness with collecting income tax?

Peculiar how both are important but the one involving healthy cycling is once again abandoned.