Why Did Government Spend More Than £500k On Chauffer-Driven Documents?

Tue 6th Apr 2021

A revealing new Freedom of Information request has revealed the extent to which the UK government is using tax-payers money to ferry confidential documents from briefings around the UK.

The HuffPost has reported this week that the government has a specially arranged fleet of Ford vehicles run by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to courier red boxes and briefing documents at a cost of £570,321 in the last reported financial year.

The so-called external messenger service (EMS) uses five Ford Focus estates, two Ford Fiestas and a Ford Transit under a subscription arrangement for classified material which cannot be transported digitally for security reasons.

The practice of ferrying documents around in cars was revealed by columnist Sarah Vine in 2010, when she spoke about her husband Michael Gove seeing his papers chauffeured around while he used public transport.

She wrote: “[The Red Box] arrives unannounced at all hours in a chauffeur-driven car, the engine purring deferentially as her handler walks her to the front door..she deposits herself on the sofa to await her master. ‘My husband is free to travel home by Tube, taxi, bicycle or carrier pigeon, but the (box) must arrive in air-conditioned splendour, snug and secure in the back of a locked car.

While governmental ministers are able to carry their red boxes with them on public transport, they are forbidden to read the documents within in public, which possibly explains why the service is so popular within Whitehall. 

Speaking to the HuffPost, a government spokesperson said: “The government is committed to delivering value for money to the taxpayer, while maintaining our national security. Classified material that cannot be sent electronically or by post must be transported by specialist means. We do so in the most secure and cost-effective manner possible.”