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Williams 'breaks word on use of ministerial cars'.

WELSH Conservatives have accused Liberal Democrat Education Secretary Kirsty Williams of breaking her word by being prepared to use a costly ministerial car within her new Cabinet role.

In February the Brecon and Radnorshire AM told her party's conference in Cardiff that the Welsh Lib Dems were "not here for ministerial cars".

However, in response to an Assembly Question from the Welsh Conservatives, First Minister Carwyn Jones has confirmed that Ms Williams will "have access to the Government Car Service".

The Tories have previously revealed how ministerial, chauffeur-driven cars cost the taxpayer approximately PS1.8m between April 2011 and October 2015.

They have estimated that taxpayers could save around PS150,000 in car costs if the Education Secretary rejected use of ministerial vehicles over the Assembly term - enough to buy, they say, every pupil in a local authority school an exercise book.

Urging Ms Williams to save hard-pressed taxpayers' cash, and make better use of alternative transport, Montgomeryshire Conservative AM Russell George said: "Only weeks after telling her party she's no interest in a costly ministerial car, the new Education Secretary's access to the Government Car Service will raise plenty of eyebrows across Mid Wales and beyond.

"Welsh Conservatives have long campaigned for the Welsh Government to ditch their fleet of taxpayer-funded ministerial limousines.

"With schools threatened by closure in Powys, and a recruitment crisis gripping the teacher profession at present, keeping to her word on the use of ministerial cars could ensure the Education Secretary frees up funding to provide more support to frontline services, including the education service over which she now presides." Speaking to the Welsh Liberal Democrat Conference in February, Ms Williams said: "But we're Welsh Liberal Democrats, we don't take the easy route do we? "For me, growing up in Llanelli, becoming a Welsh Liberal Democrat wasn't the easy choice.

"For the easy route, you'd join Labour. But that was unthinkable. We're not here for ministerial cars. Not here for fame. Not here to give our mates jobs. Not here to rule because it's what we think is owed to us."

A spokesman for Kirsty Williams said: "The Conservatives should be careful on this issue.

"Earlier this year we learned that their leader has been responsible for over 50% of all car hire expenses in the last Assembly term.

"We have also never heard Conservatives in the Assembly criticise their colleagues in Westminster for the use of ministerial cars. "Kirsty took the job of Cabinet Secretary for Education to improve the life chances of pupils in Wales and will only make use of the ministerial car service when absolutely necessary, for security or logistical purposes."

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "Ministers are expected to travel across the length and breadth of Wales and often undertake several engagements in a single day.

"Consideration is always given to the most economical and effi-cient way of conducting as many engagements as possible, to maximise value for money."

The spokesman pointed out that during journeys ministers continue to work, and have access to a range of confidential information, which they could not do on public transport or by other means of travel.

Security is also a prime consideration, he said. Ministers require reasonable protection while carrying out their public duties - travelling in official vehicles with trained professional drivers reduces any risk.

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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 6, 2016
Words:560
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