A Scottish government minister has come under the spotlight after racking up nearly £11,000 in data roaming fees on his parliament iPad while on a family holiday in Morocco.
Health Secretary Michael Matheson was said to have been using the device for work but had not switched over from the parliament’s old mobile contract to a new one.
The roaming charges – for the iPad and not phone calls – totalled £10,935.74.
Mr Matheson agreed to pay £3,000 towards the cost from his expenses budget. As the data use was reportedly for parliamentary business, the Scottish parliament agreed to pay the rest.
Mr Matheson, who as the cabinet secretary for NHS recovery, health and social care has an annual salary of £118,511, told reporters on Thursday: “It’s been explained that it’s been caused by an outdated SIM card in an iPad that I had for constituency purposes.
“I wasn’t aware that it had to be replaced and the cost built up as a result of that.”
The incident has sparked a public outcry, with both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives calling for Mr Matheson to foot the “eye-watering bill” instead of taxpayers.
Although Mr Matheson has given a brief explanation behind the blunder, we have put further questions to the minister for clarification:
• Was the iPad solely used for constituency and parliamentary purposes and no personal use at all?
• Was the iPad used to stream any entertainment?
• Why did you fail to notify the Scottish parliament’s IT department before travelling to Morocco so the appropriate roaming package could be applied?
• Other reports have said in February 2022 you were told via email to swap out the SIM card. Is that correct?
• When were you alerted to the cost of the roaming fees?
• Did you connect to any available WiFi at all during your holiday? If not, why not?
• You have so far failed to apologise. Is there anything you wish to say now?
Sky News is awaiting Mr Matheson’s reply.
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Image: Mr Matheson pictured alongside First Minister Humza Yousaf’s cabinet Mr Matheson took the iPad with him on a week-long visit to Morocco with his family around Christmas last year.
Roaming charges are incurred abroad when a mobile device connects outside of its home network rather than to WiFi.
Officials at Holyrood challenged the bill over the scale of the data fees and the late warning over the rising cost, but previous provider EE declined to waive it.
The Falkirk West MSP was the net zero, energy and transport secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s government at the time.
He was appointed health secretary earlier this year under First Minister Humza Yousaf.
A Scottish parliament spokesperson said Mr Matheson’s data charges were investigated by the parliamentary IT office in January, reviewing the data volume consumed, daily pricing charges and the company’s application of tariffs.
The investigation also confirmed he had not updated his iPad’s SIM card to the new provider as required, and did not notify the IT office before travelling, meaning the appropriate roaming package could not be applied.
They added: “At the conclusion of the investigation, senior officials accepted Mr Matheson’s assurances that all costs incurred were for parliamentary purposes.”
The Scottish parliament said the incident triggered a policy review of data usage, which will consider the “potential for members to be personally liable for costs where they have not acted in full accordance with IT office requirements”.
The review is expected to be complete by the end of March 2024.