Ministry for clean air runs 3,000 cars for bureaucrats

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JOHN PRESCOTT was yesterday accused of "rank hypocrisy" over his transport policies after it emerged that nearly 3,000 staff at one of his key agencies have official cars.

The Environment Agency, which is responsible for clean air and rivers in England and Wales, owns 237 cars and leases 2,500 for its 10,000 staff across the two countries, according to figures released by the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The figures contrast with moves by other government departments to encourage staff to use public transport for journeys to and at work. All Whitehall departments have green transport plans in place and most aim to cut the number of official cars used by civil servants by 10 per cent before 2001.

Under the Greening Government initiative, the Department for Education and Employment has withdrawn 150 cars from officials and told them to use trains, buses or cycles instead. The DfEE also aims to cut by nearly half a million the number of official miles driven every year by staff.

Mr Prescott, dubbed "Two Jags" by his critics for running both an official and a private Jaguar car, has been repeatedly attacked for failing to use public transport to conduct his ministerial business. John Redwood, Conservative environment spokesman, said the statistics proved that the Government was failing to practice what it preached to the public.

"This is just rank hypocrisy. There is a very large number of cars in use at the Environment Agency. It's a bit rich for John Prescott to be telling the rest of us to ditch our cars and use public transport when even his own staff aren't doing that. The humbug of this is staggering. Mr Prescott seems to travel everywhere by car and now we find out that his staff do, too. Clearly, running your life by bus, train and cycle is not as easy as they claim," Mr Redwood said.

A spokesman for the Environment Agency said that it was using video-conferencing and electronic mail to cut the number of miles driven and had car-sharing bulletin boards and loans for rail season tickets to encourage reduced car use.

"The agency is extremely aware of the impact of cars on the environment, but we have quite a lot of mobile staff who need to carry out site visits," he said.

"It is an ongoing challenge for the agency to keep car use as low as possible and encourage staff to consider why they are using a car. We are not so concerned about reducing our car fleet as reducing our mileage, and we are working on that."