Outrage as global poverty Ministry racks up £6m business class travel bill

By Miles Goslett (Daily Mail)

  • Staff take nine flights every day at £1,664
  • Routine first class rail travel costs £163,000

The Government department in charge of eradicating global poverty spent almost £6million of taxpayers’ money on first-class and business-class travel in just one year.

Officials at the Department for International Development (DfID) clocked up the £500,000-a-month bill for rail and plane journeys both in Britain and abroad between April 2008 and April this year.

Its 2,600 staff took an average of nine business-class flights every day for 12 months at an average cost of £1,664 per ticket.

douglas alexanderRough ride: International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander (far right) travels on Delhi’s metro. Officials at the DfID clocked up a £500,000-a-month bill for rail and plane journeys over a year

They also took 11 first-class flights over the same period costing £25,932, or £2,357 per ticket.

Meanwhile some DfID staff routinely used first-class rail travel, with 1,042 journeys being made last year at a cost of £162,756.

The figures, which were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are likely to embarrass the DfID, which aims ‘to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty’.

A DfID spokesman last night refused to confirm whether International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander had flown first-class. But he added that other employees did so only ‘when accompanying a Government Minister’.

Mr Alexander’s junior Ministers at the DfID are MPs Gareth Thomas and Mike Foster. The spokesman also refused to name the staff who had travelled first-class, their destinations, or why it was necessary for them to fly at such expense.

Meanwhile a DfID source claimed they had ‘no recollection’ of Mr Alexander’s predecessor, Hilary Benn, travelling first-class when he headed the department between 2003 and 2007.

Critics questioned the need for DfID staff to travel so frequently, and said that, when it was necessary, significant savings could easily be made by using economy class.

Andrew Mitchell, Tory international development spokesman, said: ‘Labour just don’t seem to understand the need for value for money in these tough economic times.

‘Taxpayers will struggle to understand why officials need to take first-class flights at their expense.’

A spokesman for the Taxpayers’ Alliance added: ‘It is shocking the department responsible for helping the world’s poorest is treating itself to high-class travel on a regular basis.

‘Many taxpayers and businesses do not travel in anything other than economy class even when there isn’t a recession. Taxpayers are cutting back. DfID should do the same.’

Business-class flights account for most of the department’s travel expenditure. During the last financial year, £5,630,278 was spent on 3,383 plane journeys.

Government protocol states that Ministers and civil servants should fly in economy class unless journey times are longer than four hours; the journey involves overnight travel; there are no economy seats available; or it is not possible to travel on an alternative day.

The DfID spokesman refused to supply a detailed record of the business-class flights.

He was also unable to state how many economy-priced flights were made during the period, prompting concerns that some staff may have abused the system by flying business-class on journeys that did not merit the expense.

The department has a worldwide staff of 2,600, half of whom are based in Britain and the rest in 50 offices in Africa and Asia. It has an annual budget of £6billion, which is set to rise to £7.9billion within two years.

Staff are often sent to monitor international disasters and emergencies, and carry out fieldwork in its support for the United Nations’ eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’.

These include halving the numbers of those living in extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring all children receive primary education and protecting the environment.

Explaining the department’s challenges in its latest annual report, published in July, Mr Alexander wrote: ‘There are still more than a billion people living on less than $1 a day, 9million children die from preventable causes each year, and 70million children are denied the opportunity to go to school.’

The DfID spokesman said: ‘Travel must be by the most economical means and take account of any specific factors such as disability as well as the full range of costs incurred. Staff are not permitted to travel first-class unless accompanying a Minister.

‘They are encouraged to seek out cheap offers and economy tickets, especially for shorter journeys. On longer trips, staff may be required to work, therefore business-class may be the most practical option.

‘As of this summer we will be making significant savings through discounts provided by the new Government Air Programme.’

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