Foreign roles with luxury perks

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The Independent Online
When the car of Sir Anthony Reeve, the British ambassador to South Africa, was involved in an accident recently, mandarins back home in Whitehall pondered long and hard.

They are still thinking. At issue is the thorny question of whether to repair the embassy Rolls-Royce, replace it with another, or downgrade to a Rover. If Pretoria gets its Roller back - a Silver Spur Mk III - it will join nine other embassies on the elite list of Foreign Office postings to carry the world's most prestigious marque.

The nine - Bonn, Paris, Tokyo, Washington, Brasilia, the United Nations in New York, Peking, Riyadh, Canberra - are a league apart from the rest of the government service. While the Prime Minister has a Jaguar, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer a Rover, our men in far-flung places do better.

A parliamentary answer to John Hutton, MP for Barrow and Furness, from Alastair Goodlad, the Foreign Office minister, yesterday, revealed the cost of supplying this luxury: pounds 133,317 in 1993/94; pounds 191,804 in 1994/95. Notable omissions from the list include Brussels, New Delhi, Ottawa, Rome and, of course, Moscow. And why Brasilia?

The Foreign Office had an answer. In 1991, said a spokesman, ministers decided only four missions would have Rolls-Royces: Bonn, Paris, Tokyo and Washington. In Moscow, where it snows a lot and the roads are not good, a sturdier Range Rover was deemed more suitable.

In 1994 Rolls-Royce offered to supply cars to five other places for a discount. The five just happened to coincide with the firm's target markets, said the Foreign Office: Brasilia, Riyadh, Peking, New York and Canberra. As for Sir Anthony in Pretoria, his Rolls was 10 years old, said the spokesman. He may not get another.

"Cabinet ministers have Rovers and the Prime Minister has a Jaguar," said Mr Hutton. "What on earth are ambassadors doing with Rolls-Royces? It's all to do with providing perks for a select few. I don't believe expenditure of this kind can be justified at all."