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Italy counts the cost of its fleet of luxury limos

July 21, 2010

by Guy Dinmore in Rome

If there is something guaranteed to get an Italian’s blood boiling on a hot summer’s day it is the sight of endless official limousines, blue lights flashing, violating traffic regulations or clogging up parking spaces on Rome’s crowded streets. Such scenes are repeated down to the smallest municipality – a perk that costs the state billions of euros a year in a time of austerity when Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, is calling for “sacrifices”.
Just how many of these cars – known as auto blu – exist has remained a mystery until Renato Brunetta, minister for public administration, stirred up a hornets nest by launching a nationwide census in May with the aim of slashing costs.

“I am not a moralist or a fundamentalist, but basically an economist,” Mr Brunetta told the Financial Times. “It is not that we have to around on bicycles, but there has to be efficiency and transparency.”

According to partial results of his census, Mr Brunetta estimates Italy has over 90,000 cars, with 60,000 official drivers, costing taxpayers a total of some 4bn euros a year.

Speaking with a big grin of his “enemies”, Mr Brunetta said that to complete his census he used “threats, solicitations, call centres, white lists, blacklists, moral suasion, inspectors… It was very exhausting.”

Results are published for each entity on the ministry’s website with the public invited to make their own checks and reply with a special email address.

So far the justice ministry seems to be the main beneficiary with 1,562 cars and drivers. Mr Berlusconi’s office has reported 30. Some are Maseratis.

The breakdown includes 10,000 cars for elected politicians, 20,000 for appointed officials and 65,000 “grey cars” for general transport such as deliveries. Special service vehicles such as police cars and ambulances are not included.

While the total came as a shock it was nowhere near a widely published figure of 624,000 cars based on a reported survey by a consumer association. But in fact that figure was baseless.

“There was no research. No one had bothered to check. They just came up with that number,” he explained.

Past ministers had tried to get a grip on the chaos but failed, said Mr Brunetta who has made a name for himself with a crackdown on fannullone – slackers – in the civil service and by publishing officials’ salaries and fees for “consultants”.

“I am a banal revolutionary,” he laughs.

After the summer break, Mr Brunetta plans legislation that would have the public sector outsource its transport needs by tender to private companies. He estimates costs would be halved and wants to spend the savings for social uses such as nurseries and more care for pensioners. Drivers would not lose their jobs but would be transferred to “productive” work.

Under pressure from the central government, local authorities are already acting. The mayor of Corsico is walking these days while in Monza the official Alfa has gone to the Red Cross.

Mr Brunetta uses a BMW.

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