Government 'spends millions on unneccessary rail fares'

National Audit Office says expensive tickets are being booked over cheaper, standard class alternatives

london   oct 8  a train pulls...

Government departments have been sharply criticised for paying out millions of pounds for costly flexible "any time" rail tickets rather than cheaper "advance" fares.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said that while 99 per cent of the 1.2 million rail journeys booked by departments during 2013/14, at a total cost of £75.7 million, were standard class, 41 per cent were the more expensive flexible tickets.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee which oversees the work of the NAO, said it was "madness" to be spending so much on the dearer fares. WORDS: PA.

"I expect government departments to be more efficient by planning ahead and booking travel which is good value for the public purse," she said.

The NAO said that 94% of the 304,000 flights booked during the year, at a cost of £105.4 million, were economy class.

However a quarter of those booked by the Foreign Office were business class while Ministry of Defence officials took more than 200 first class trips, although the NAO said many were internal flights in the United and Middle East which were the equivalent of business class on international flights.

Overall the NAO said that data on government travel costs was "incomplete" and "inconsistent". One estimate put total costs for 2013/14 at £546 million although that did not include costs claimed by officials as expenses.

"Although it represents only a small proportion of overall government spending, inappropriate travel expenditure can seriously damage reputations," the NAO said.

"Parliament and the public expect officials to travel cost-effectively, and for this public spending to be carefully controlled."

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jonathan Ashworth said: "Tory and Lib Dem ministers say one thing and do another. They must explain why, with a smaller workforce and families struggling to make ends meet, government travel costs are rising and they are failing to control costs.

"Like in so many areas, David Cameron's Government is simply failing to deliver."

Great railway journeys

Great railway journeys

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