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.