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Health Secretary Michael Matheson agrees to pay back £11k iPad bill

Michael Matheson
Michael Matheson

Scotland's Health Secretary Michael Matheson has said he will pay back the full cost of an £11,000 data roaming bill he incurred while using a parliamentary iPad on holiday.

He said he ran up the charges during a trip to Morocco while completing constituency work.

The charges were said to be due to an outdated sim card.

Mr Matheson said the decision to pay back the money was "the right one in all circumstances".

In a statement released on Friday, he 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."

Mr Matheson, who as the cabinet secretary for health and social care receives receives a yearly salary of £118,511, had already paid £3,000 towards the bill from his expenses budget.

Opposition MSP's had called on the minister to cover the costs himself.

First Minister Humza Yousaf had said Mr Matheson did not need to pay back the sum as it was a "legitimate expense".

Analysis box by Philip Sim, political correspondent, Scotland
Analysis box by Philip Sim, political correspondent, Scotland

This was really the only way this was ever going to end.

After it emerged Mr Matheson had been warned by IT officials about the need to change his sim card almost a year in advance, questions were mounting.

He may have concluded that it is considerably cheaper for him to pay out £11,000 now, rather than risk losing his ministerial salary in a deepening expenses row.

The MSP will also have been acutely aware that as the health secretary, heading into a typically challenging winter period, the last thing he needed was being dogged by reporters about something else.

And there is the question of personal integrity. Mr Matheson has been at Holyrood since 1999, and is widely regarded as a fairly straight shooter.

He has concluded that this is the right thing to do. That may well be the case not just personally, but politically too.

The bill grew to £11,000 due to an outdated sim card still being used in the device. Mr Matheson had said he was not aware that it needed updated.

The parliament's previous mobile contract with EE came to an end in December 2021, and members were told to switch their devices across to the new contract with Vodafone.

Mr Matheson was emailed by officials in February 2022, and it is thought highly likely that he would have also been spoken to by IT staff when he had the sim card in his mobile phone changed later that year.

Roaming charges are incurred when a mobile device connects to a local network outside of the UK rather than to wifi.

'Unanswered questions'

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said there were still unanswered questions surrounding the "scandal".

He said: "We still need to hear a personal statement from the health secretary in parliament and I call on him to publish the original roaming charges statement from the network provider.

"This also calls into question the judgment of Humza Yousaf who, just 24 hours ago, claimed that this was a legitimate expenses claim and that his health secretary shouldn't repay a penny."

A Scottish Parliament spokesman previously said that, following an investigation, senior officials had accepted assurances that all costs incurred were for parliamentary purposes.

The spokesperson said the incident had led to a review mobile data usage and a new mobile phone contract is set to be awarded to "ensure there is no repeat of these substantial data charges".

The £11,000 bill is more than the total of all MSPs' mobile phone, business line, tablet and staff phone bill expenses claimed in 2022/23 combined. The total for all phone-related expenses last year was £9,507.