Scotland’s Health Secretary has apologised as he revealed how his teenage sons used his Holyrood-issued iPad to watch football matches while on holiday in Morocco – resulting in a bill of almost £11,000 in data roaming charges for the device.
Michael Matheson made a personal statement to MSPs a week after a row erupted about the charges.
He initially insisted he had been using the device for parliamentary work during the trip, which he went on with his wife and two sons shortly after Christmas last year.
But amid increasing demands to explain the data charges – which amounted to a total of £10,935.74 – Mr Matheson told MSPs that members of his family had “made use of the iPad’s data”.
Information published by the Scottish Scottish Parliament revealed that in one session on January 2, a total of 3.18GB of data was used, costing £7,345.689.
Speaking about the data usage, Mr Matheson said: “The simple truth is they watched football matches.”
He explained he had not mentioned his family’s use of the device before now because he was a “father first and foremost” and had wanted to “protect” his children from “the political and media scrutiny”.
The Health Secretary added: “That was a mistake and I am sorry.”
But he stated: “I can see now that it just isn’t possible to explain the data usage without explaining their role.”
The statement came after Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross had urged First Minister Humza Yousaf to “do the right thing” and sack the Health Secretary over the matter.
Raising the issue earlier on Thursday in Holyrood, Mr Ross had said: “The evidence shows that Michael Matheson claimed £11,000 of taxpayers’ money when he knew it wasn’t for parliamentary work.
“It wasn’t just a mistake, it was dishonest.”
Mr Matheson has referred himself to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body so it can investigate the matter – but Scottish Tories have indicated they could still bring a vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary.
Mr Yousaf however has insisted that he has “absolute confidence in Michael Matheson as the Cabinet Secretary for Health”.
In his statement to Holyrood Mr Matheson told MSPs the disclosing the information about his family had been “extremely difficult” for him.
He stated: “Mistakes have been made. By me. By my family.”
He told MSPs it was only when he returned home last Thursday, after the row about the data bill had erupted, that he was “made aware by my wife that other members of our family had made use of the iPad’s data” while on the holiday.
The Health Secretary insisted: “This was the first I knew that the data had been used by anyone else.
“I had previously checked this but the truth only emerged after this story was in the news.”
Mr Matheson added that he “should have pressed harder” about family use of the device, but he made clear to MSPs: “The responsibility for the iPad is mine.
The SNP Health Secretary managed to run up a £7,300 bill on a single day whilst on holiday in Morocco. That equates to 1 email written and sent every 10 seconds, for 24 hours.
This doesn't look like an ‘honest mistake’. This looks like an attempt to dupe the taxpayer. pic.twitter.com/7yjE9UjhEE
— Scottish Conservatives (@ScotTories) November 16, 2023
“The responsibility for the data usage is mine.”
He and his wife immediately decided to reimburse the Scottish Parliament “for the full cost” at that point.
In his statement, he made clear to MSPs that he “did not knowingly run up the roaming charges bill”.
But he accepted that the bill had come about as a result of him “not updating the Sim card” in the device to Holyrood’s new contract provider.
He also recognised that he should have informed the Parliament in advance of the trip, and that he would be taking the iPad with him.
“My mistake, and I wholly accept this, was not to have sorted all of this out long before I went to Morocco,” the Health Secretary said.
He added there had been “mistakes” made in the way he handled the matter, saying: “I should have sorted the Sim card. And I should have investigated what happened more thoroughly.
“I accept that, take full responsibility and apologise unreservedly.”
Mr Ross pressed him on why he had claimed the bill had occurred while he was using the device for parliamentary work, with Mr Matheson saying it had been a “very challenging and emotional time for my family”.
He added he had not provided the full details earlier “because it would implicate my children in this issue”.
Labour’s Dame Jackie Baillie said parents of teenage children would understand the situation, but not the fact that there has been a “cover up”.
And the fact the iPad was not kept secure was “negligent”, she said.
Meanwhile, Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said if the password for the iPad had been shared this could have been a breach of GDPR.
Mr Matheson told her he had been advised that he could use the iPad for hotspotting purposes.
He said: “My son – I had used a hotspot before – helped to facilitate that provision.
“That is how they have been able to access the data provided within the iPad during the course of our holiday period.”
Asked afterwards by journalists if he had offered his resignation at any point, Mr Matheson said: “No I haven’t. I don’t intend to. I intend to continue my work as MSP for Falkirk West and also to continue with the considerable responsibilities as Health Secretary.”
Asked if he had been watching football, he stated: “No, I didn’t watch the football. I didn’t know the football was being watched.”