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Michael Matheson rejects call to hand in iPad over £11k bill

Michael Matheson
Health Secretary Michael Matheson says the matter has been fully investigated

The Scottish health secretary has dismissed a call to hand over his iPad to parliamentary authorities after he racked up an £11,000 data roaming bill.

Michael Matheson spoke for the first time after he agreed to pay for charges incurred on a parliamentary iPad during a holiday to Morocco last year.

Tories said the device should be handed in to check if Mr Matheson used it for constituency work, as he claimed.

The SNP minister said the matter had already been looked into in January.

He told BBC Scotland News it was investigated by a parliamentary IT manager, who had "access to all of the data" associated with the device.

Mr Matheson said the reason the bill was so high was because there was an old sim card in the device.

"It should have been replaced. I have accepted that was my fault," he said.

"I failed to take the action that the parliament had already stated that I should take on the matter.

"As a consequence it was tied into an old contract which allowed it to rack up this bill in a way I wasn't aware of."

He said he told parliament he would pay the full amount "to put the issue beyond any question whatsoever".

The Scottish Tories had urged Mr Matheson to hand the iPad to parliamentary authorities to check that the roaming charges were related to parliamentary and constituency-related work.

Craig Hoy
Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy says unanswered questions remain

They also demanded to know if Mr Matheson still had the iPad and whether he would make public all correspondence from parliament on roaming charge expenses and the need to upgrade the device's sim card.

Responding to Mr Matheson's latest comment, Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy said it "begs more questions than it answers" and that it "simply won't cut it".

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Hoy added: "It's time for total transparency and independent verification that the roaming charges related solely to parliamentary and constituency business."

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson confirmed that Mr Matheson's iPad had been examined in person by a senior IT official to "ensure it was functioning properly", which it was.

"The official reviewed the iPad's mobile data settings and data use, but the device does not provide a breakdown of data over a specific timeframe," the spokesperson said.

"The official observed a cumulative total, which accrues over the lifetime of the device."

Mr Matheson ran up the £10,935.74 bill during a week-long visit to Morocco with his family around Christmas last year.

The health secretary, who receives receives a yearly salary of £118,511, initially agreed to pay £3,000 towards the bill from his expenses budget.

Out-of-date sim card

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

But on Friday, Mr Matheson announced he would reimburse the full cost personally.

The bill grew due to the outdated sim card, which should have been changed after parliament officials agreed a new mobile contract with Vodafone in December 2021.

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.

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 of mobile data usage and a new mobile phone contract was 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.