I am committed to ensure that civil servants are properly reimbursed when they provide their vehicles for carrying out official business. The current mileage rates that are payable to civil servants who use their cars to travel for business reasons are 40p per mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p per mile thereafter. The rates are based on those that have been set by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and have remained unchanged since 2002. I understand that those rates are in place in the Civil Service elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
I realise that since 2002, fuel prices have increased by more than 30p per litre. In view of that, I have asked my officials to review current rates in order to determine whether they are still appropriate. It is worth noting that if mileage rates were raised above the HMRC-approved rate, there would be tax implications for each individual as well as additional cost to Departments for the administration of any sum that exceeds the approved amount of 40p.
It is not within my remit to comment upon the mileage rates that are payable to individuals who are employed by other statutory bodies.
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. I congratulate the Minister and wish him well in his new post. I thank him for his answer. Given the current fuel crisis, which seems certain to continue, and the Assembly’s commitments on climate change and environmental protection, will the Minister agree that it is imperative that the relocation of public-sector jobs throughout the North — not only to deal with those issues, but with the imbalance in the distribution of jobs — should be given serious consideration by the Executive? Go raibh maith agat.
The Member raises a wider issue about the location of public-sector jobs. He will be aware that Sir George Bain is currently carrying out a review on that particular matter, which I hope to discuss with him soon. I understand that he plans to bring forward proposals as quickly as possible.
When considering the location or relocation of public-sector jobs, all the issues come into play, and people having to travel to work is one of them. Given the recent increases in the price of petrol and diesel, driving and maintaining a car is much more expensive than it used to be. That is why I have instigated a review of Civil Service mileage rates. I will inform Members of the outcome of that review when it is known.
Given the high cost of fuel, does the Minister agree that the proposed increase of 2p a litre on fuel duty in the autumn will disadvantage consumers and the economy? Will the Minister detail any representation that he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of spiralling costs on the people of Northern Ireland?
I am grateful to the honourable Member for his comments. The 2p fuel increase is an important issue, and I have already made representations on it in another place. As the Member is aware, tax revenues are a matter for the national Parliament, not the Assembly. However, he can be assured that we are continuing to raise those issues. He will also be aware that the Executive have established a fuel poverty task force, led by the Department for Social Development. That task force has already committed to make representations to increase the winter fuel payment. I support that; I have supported it elsewhere, and I will continue to make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as appropriate.
I congratulate the Minister on his promotion and on his translation from his previous Department. Perhaps “translation” is too much of a Church term.
I listened to the Minister’s reply carefully. I ask him to be wary of any mileage increase for public servants because it may create reasonable resentment among ordinary workers who do not have that advantage. Can the Minister seek ways and means of alleviating the problem of travelling for other workers? It is becoming a huge burden, particularly on those who travel from country areas to Belfast.
I thank the Member for his comments; he made a good point about the danger of carrying out such a review on public servants. However, it is intended to reimburse civil servants and other public officials when they are using their own vehicle in the exercise of public duties. In those circumstances, it is fair that they should be reimbursed at a reasonable rate, and all of that will be reviewed.
The Member asked what could be done on the wider issue. Many of the solutions to the wider issues fall outside the remit of the Assembly and the Executive. Nonetheless, we are conscious of their impact, and that is why the fuel poverty task force was set up. That is why the Executive decided to freeze the regional rate, which should allow extra income to remain in people’s purses and in their household budget.
We will consider other ways in which we can lessen the effect of the rising cost of living on people’s budgets. That is one of the benefits of devolution: we may not be able to deliver everything that people want, but at least we can tackle the issues in a much more sympathetic way than would ever have been the case under direct rule.