The Scottish minister who cost the taxpayer £11,000 in roaming charges while on a family holiday in Morocco has now agreed to personally pay back the full amount.
Michael Matheson said after reflecting “long and hard” he accepted that it was his fault not to change his iPad’s SIM card to the Scottish Parliament’s new provider.
The health secretary previously said he would put £3,000 from his expense budget into the bill, with Holyrood making up the remainder, but he will not personally pay EE the cash.
He had said that he did not know he had to change the SIM.
The Scottish Parliament also said Matheson did not tell them he was about to go abroad – something he was meant to do.
First Minister Humza had previously said Matheson should not pay back the bill because it was for a “legitimate” parliamentary business.
But in a statement on Friday evening, the health secretary said: “I have contacted the Scottish Parliament authorities this afternoon to make arrangements to reimburse the full cost of the £10,935.74 incurred in roaming charges on my parliament iPad.
“While the Parliament agreed to pay the bulk of this sum as a legitimate expense, with the rest being met from my office allowance, I have reflected long and hard and accept that the SIM card on this device should have been replaced at an earlier stage.
“Much of the speculation in the past couple of days has questioned my integrity, and I take this extremely seriously.
“I take equally seriously the reputation of the Scottish Parliament, of which I have always striven to be a diligent member since its restoration in 1999.
“It is my decision to reimburse these costs in full, which I believe in all the circumstances to be the right one.
“As well as being a constituency MSP, I have an important role as health secretary and the coming months will be challenging for our health service.
“I am determined to be fully focused on taking forward these responsibilities, and I assure the people of Falkirk West and across Scotland that their concerns are my priorities.”
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “As previously stated, Mr Matheson provided written assurance that the costs were in connection with parliamentary business.
“Mr Matheson notified the Parliament this afternoon that he would, on reflection, meet the cost of his data charges. The money will be returned to the Parliament’s budget.”
In December 2021 Holyrood switched from using EE on its devices to Vodafone.
Matheson went to Morocco for a week a year later around Christmas time but his official iPad still had an EE sim card, which resulted in roaming charges.
Roaming charges happen when a person uses data abroad.
The SNP minister had also said on Thursday that EE did not say that costs were being incurred – a claim rejected by EE.
STV News contacted EE but has not heard back.
The Conservatives have called on Holyrood bosses to investigate the issue but the Scottish Parliament said it probed the roaming charges in January last year.
It was agreed at the time that a policy review of its mobile data usage would take place.
Officials accepted Matheson’s “assurances” that the iPad was used for official business only.
A spokesperson for the Scottish Parliament said on Thursday: “The circumstances of Mr Matheson’s data charges were investigated by a senior member of the Parliament’s IT office in January this year.
“This included a review of the data volume consumed, the daily pricing charges and the company’s application of tariffs.
“The investigation also confirmed that Mr Matheson had not updated his iPad’s sim card to the new provider as required, or notified the IT office before travelling so that the appropriate roaming package could be applied.
“At the conclusion of the investigation senior officials accepted Mr Matheson’s assurances that all costs incurred were for parliamentary purposes.
“Following the close of the financial year, it was agreed by Parliament’s senior management, in September 2023, that the events of this incident should lead to a policy review of mobile data usage.
“The policy review will include consideration of the potential for Members to be personally liable for costs where they have not acted in full accordance with IT office requirements. That review will be completed before the end of this financial year (end March 2024).
“In addition to reviewing the policy, the Parliament will shortly award a new mobile contract that will enhance technical controls to ensure there is no repeat of these substantial data charges.”
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