News: Government taxis keep meter running with £1m fare

Four wheels better than two...



TAXI FOR Mr Cameron! While most people are switching to buses, trains and bicycles to save money in an age of austerity, the government remains committed to cabs — in a big way. New documents reveal that ministers and civil servants are preparing to spend up to £1m a year on taxis to shuttle them across London round the clock.

The figure is far higher than in the previous data, compiled in 2012, which showed that departments were spending £468,500 a year on cabs. Officials said the earlier data was incomplete, however, because not all costs had been included.

The latest figures have emerged in documents seen by the The Sunday Times for the new three-year contract to provide taxis for the government. Its total value is between £1.2m and £3m, depending on how many departments take advantage of the service. The taxis will be used by at least three departments — the Cabinet Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Crown Commerical Service — but other ministries will be able to sign up and drop their current arrangement.

Opposition transport spokesmen have consistently accused the coalition government of double standards. On the one hand, Labour says, ministers claim they are making savings of £5m a year from the Government Car Service, which supplies ministerial vehicles, while on the other they are surreptitiously switching to private contracts for taxis and couriers.

The documents also reveal the strict standards that ministers expect from their taxi drivers. The successful bidder will have to guarantee a 20-minute response time for most bookings, although that limit is cut for pick-ups from certain locations. When Downing Street calls for a cab, for example, it must arrive within 10 minutes.

The Cabinet Office said that taxis would actually save money and would be used only “when there is an urgent business requirement that public transport can’t meet or where no easy option or access to public transport exists”.

A spokesman added: “The proposed contract, which is available to all departments, provides a central solution, aggregating demand for taxi services in London to help drive down costs. The range [in value] is indicative of the potential demand over several years from all departments and includes a buffer.”

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