Health secretary Michael Matheson racked up £7k data fee in one day

Michael Matheson
Health Secretary Michael Matheson

The Scottish Parliament has released a breakdown of Michael Matheson's data usage on a trip where he racked up an £11,000 data roaming charge on his parliamentary iPad.

The document reveals Scotland's health secretary was billed more than £7,000 of fees in one day during a holiday to Morocco last year.

He has agreed to pay the fees back.

The parliament said it has launched an urgent review into mobile devices and data roaming charges.

It came shortly after First Minister Humza Yousaf gave his "100% backing" to Mr Matheson, who is facing a vote of no confidence.

The data charges incurred by Mr Matheson, which were due to a failure to replace an old Sim card, included £7,346 on 2 January 2023 for using 3.18GB.

A further £1,320 charge was listed as a separate entry for 2 January. It is not yet known if the fee could relate to a previous day due to a lag effect in the billing system but there is no figure listed for 1 January.

The next largest fee was on 28 December 2022, when the minster was charged £2,249 for using 1.26GB.

In total, he used more than 6GB of data over the course of a week between 28 December and 3 January. Parliament was in recess throughout that period.

Michael Matheson data usage. .  .
Michael Matheson data usage. . .

Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser suggested the charges incurred by Mr Matheson, who is a big football fan, could be related to a Rangers-Celtic match on 2 January. Tory MSP Stephen Kerr noted that Hibernian-Celtic was played on 28 December.

SNP president Michael Russell responded: "Unspeakable horrors in Gaza, impending cease fire vote, their party planning to leave ECHR and plenty more around that should engage & absorb all those charged with representative responsibilities - yet this is where the Tories in Holyrood prefer to wallow."

Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone announced the review, instructed by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), will include options on disabling sim cards, a mandatory opt-in to data roaming bundles and personal liability for MSPs where parliament's procedures have not been followed.

She said: "We must be in a position where we have reviewed and tightened all policies to ensure the present situation cannot happen again."

The presiding officer added: "The SPCB recognises that members are the elected representatives of their constituents and privacy and confidentiality is fundamental to that relationship."

The Scottish Tories have threatened a no confidence motion if Mr Matheson does not hand in the iPad to Holyrood authorities, which he has so far refused to do - arguing that the matter had already been investigated by parliament.

Mr Matheson agreed with parliament in January that the bill would be paid out of the public purse, with the first minister describing the charge as a "legitimate expense" when the story was first reported last week.

However, the health secretary announced on Friday that he would pay back the bill in full.

'Honest mistake'

Speaking to the media shortly before the Scottish Parliament released a breakdown of Mr Matheson's data usage, Mr Yousaf said: "He has made an honest mistake in relation to the Sim card and the Sim card not being updated when it should have been done.

"As far as I am concerned that is the end of the matter."

Mr Yousaf said he had known Mr Matheson for 20 years, and described him as a "person of integrity and character" and an "excellent health secretary".

He added: "Because that integrity and character is being called into question is why he has chosen to pay back the entire amount."

Humza Yousaf
First Minister Humza Yousaf has backed the health secretary

It was put to the first minister that the parliament had taken the health secretary at "his word" over assurance the iPad was used for constituency work.

Mr Yousaf responded: "I also absolutely take Michael at his word."

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

A Sim card in the device should have been changed after parliament officials switched a mobile contract from EE to Vodafone in December 2021.

Holyrood officials accepted the assurance that it had been used for parliamentary and constituency work and agreed to cover the cost, with £3,000 to come from the health secretary's own expense budget, and the rest from Holyrood's.

Mr Matheson told BBC Scotland News that the matter had already been investigated by a parliamentary IT manager, who had "access to all of the data" associated with the device.

The parliament said IT officials checked the iPad to see if it was working. They also examined the mobile data usage, but were only presented with a cumulative total and did not see the browsing history.

Analysis box by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political editor
Analysis box by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland political editor

Six gigabytes is what the actor Kevin Bacon might have described in adverts for Holyrood's previous mobile provider as a "shed load of data".

Using that amount on a Scottish Parliament iPad while on holiday in Morocco, Michael Matheson has also incurred a shed load of expense.

He is personally refunding the parliament almost £11,000 to pay the bill in full.

The trouble is he was initially happy for parliament to pick up the tab on the basis that all the data was used for parliamentary business.

His opponents struggle to believe that he could have done that much work on behalf of his constituents over the New Year period.

For context, Netflix says 6GB is enough to stream their service for 24 hours. Michael Matheson has yet to spell out how much office work he had to do to consume a similar amount of data.

Scottish Tory chairman Craig Hoy described the data usage document as "utterly jaw-dropping".

He said: "Speculation will now go into overdrive as to how Michael Matheson racked up this £11,000 roaming bill and whether he was viewing non-political material, particularly on January 2 - a public holiday - when the usage sky-rocketed.

"The only way he will allay the suspicion and rumours is by handing over his iPad so that the browser history can be examined and his claim that the charges were accrued only on parliamentary work can be verified.

"Serious questions remain too for parliamentary authorities as well when they took Michael Matheson at his word over this eye-watering bill. These charges clearly go against guidelines on expenses delivering best value for money."