Taxpayer pays as thousands of civil servants have contracts guaranteeing first class rail travel
Thousands of civil servants have enjoyed first class rail journeys - because a clause in their contract guarantees they won't have to suffer the indignity of travelling standard class.
At least 8,000 civil servants have it written in to their contracts that they are allowed to buy a first class ticket at taxpayers' expense if they need to take a train journey for official purposes.
The bizarre arrangement has been uncovered by Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff (Lab Hall Green), who submitted a series of written questions to departments.
Ministers have stressed in their responses that they inherited the arrangement when the Coalition came in to power last year, and are doing their best to stamp it out.
Defence Minister Peter Luff reported that Ministry of Defence staff made 3,356 first class rail journeys in the 2010-11 financial year, at a cost of £226,177.
He said: "While some staff have an entitlement to first-class rail travel, standard-class travel using the cheapest possible tickets is now the norm and significant savings have been achieved."
Education Minister Tim Loughton reported: "Between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011 staff within the Department for Education made 2,094 first class rail journeys costing £265,028.46."
Defra Minister Richard Benyon reported that officials working for Defra and public bodies responsible to Defra enjoyed 1,058 first class journeys.
Home Office Minister Damian Green reported: "During the period 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011 there have been 1,018 recorded instances of first class travel at a total cost of £145,000 within the core Home Office.
"During the period 1 April 2010 to 31 March 2011 there have been 668 recorded instances of first class travel at a total cost of £53,000 within the UK Border Agency."
Why are these journeys taking place?
Civil servants may have good reason for making train journeys, such as attending conferences or visiting colleagues in offices in other parts of the country.
But so do plenty of other people who make business trips and very few have it written into their contract that they are always allowed to travel first class.
After all, a standard class return ticket on a Virgin West Coast Main Line service from Birmingham to London can cost up to £149, which is expensive enough. But the equivalent first class ticket is at least £240.
The answer is that the right to travel first class is written in to their contracts.
In an earlier written answer to Mr Godsiff, Home Office Minister Damian Green said: "In principle, we have 4,015 staff (14.5 per cent of total staff employed), across the Home Office and its agencies (UK Border Agency, Identity and Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau ) with a contractual entitlement to travel first class."
Health Minister Simon Burns said: "Staff at senior executive officer (SEO) level and above may travel first class without separate approval. Latest data submitted by the Department to the Office of National Statistics as at 31 December 2010 shows that there were 2,656 civil servants in the department. Of these, 1,604 were employed at SEO level or above; that is, 60 per cent of the department's workforce."
Business Minister Edward Davey said: "Under the current travel policy, however, for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), all staff in grades senior executive officer to senior civil service have a contractual entitlement to travel first class by rail within the UK.
This represents 1,436 staff and equates to 53 per cent of BIS staff."
And Education Minister Tim Loughton said: "At present, 1,253 (49%) of staff in my Department at the senior executive officer (SEO) grade and above, have a contractual entitlement to first class rail travel."
Some departments have not answered Mr Godsiff, or gave a non-answer. I understand he's continuing to pose questions.