Outrage over Rail Minister's £80,000 car rides

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The Independent Online

Revelations that the Minister responsible for rail fares is chauffeured to and from work at the cost of £80,000-a-year to taxpayers has sparked outrage among commuters.

Simon Burns is driven the 35 miles from his Essex home to his Westminster office in a £400-a-day Government pool car, it was revealed last night.

Mr Burns, the Minister responsible for rail strategy and fares policy, defended his decision to use the car rather than take public transport by claiming he was unable to work on his Ministerial papers on the train for security reasons.

But the Cabinet Office was reported to have undermined this claim by confirming that Ministers could work on Government papers in public as long as they ensured any sensitive materials were not seen according to The Mail on Sunday.

With many rush-hour lines becoming increasingly overcrowded and the average cost of rail tickets rising by 4.2 per cent last week, rail passenger pressure groups have heavily criticised Mr Burns' travel arrangements.

A spokesman for the passengers' campaign group Railfuture said: "It would be nice if the person who is setting these fare rises was also experiencing some of the congestion and overcrowding endured by ordinary, hard-pressed travellers."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The pool car is used throughout the day by all the Ministers and allows them to work on the move."

Mr Burns defended the rail fare rises last week, saying: "Family budgets are being squeezed which is why we have cut planned fare rises from 3 per cent to 1 per cent above inflation until 2014. The popularity of rail travel continues to grow, which is why we have embarked on one of the biggest investment programmes... since the Victorian era."

Mr Burns gained a profile at Westminster when he called John Bercow, the Commons speaker a "stupid and sanctimonious dwarf" two years ago.

An annual standard-class rail season ticket between Chelmsford and London Liverpool Street costs £3,455 after rising by 6 per cent, or £195, in this month's hikes. A first-class season ticket is £5,400.