PM's use of RAF jet for Egypt holiday to be investigated

#1
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
11 January 2005


The Prime Minister's use of an RAF-operated passenger jet to take his family on holiday will be investigated as part of a review of air travel by ministers and members of the Royal Family at the taxpayers' expense.

Sir Peter Gershon, who recently reviewed Whitehall waste for the Chancellor, is investigating whether taxpayers get value for money from the ageing Queen's Flight aircraft run by the RAF 32 Squadron.

Downing Street has defended Tony Blair's use of a BAe "whisper jet" for his holiday in Egypt, insisting he had official meetings in Sharm el Sheikh during his 10-day stay. The year before, the Blairs flew to the resort on a Thomas Cook charter flight, but Downing Street said the security risk had increased.

Sir Peter has been told to take into account the increasing security risks, which could tip the balance in favour of keeping an RAF fleet of planes for the Royal Family and ministers.

The RAF's 32 Squadron has two BAE 146 four-engine planes, capable of carrying up to 26 passengers and five HS 125 twin-engine planes for five passengers.

The Royal Family's financial report last year hinted at increasing frustration over the growing demands on the planes by ministers. The planes are also becoming increasingly unreliable, which has led to more private jets being chartered by the Queen and senior members of her family for state business.

Mr Blair ran up the biggest government bills for foreign travel, totalling £916,100 for 20 trips on RAF or charter flights, and never used scheduled services. The trip to Washington and the Far East during which David Kelly, the government weapons expert, was found dead in Oxfordshire, took up the bulk of the costs, at £315,150 for Mr Blair and 28 officials.

The most frequent flyer in the Government was Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who ran up bills of more than £746,947 in the year to March, 2004. He used some scheduled flights, including Concorde, but used the Queen's Flight or private charter on 43 out of 47 trips.

Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, came third with bills of £126,786. Mr Hoon used the Queen's Flight on 13 out of 20 occasions, including trips to Iraq, Brussels, Denmark and Hungary. The Defence Secretary used ordinary scheduled flights, but hardly at bucket-shop prices. A return flight to the US cost the taxpayer £6,671.

The Defence Secretary could argue that security was an important issue in his use of RAF flights. However, Sir Peter may be surprised to discover that Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, also called on the Queen's Flight for trips to agriculture council meetings in Luxembourg, Brussels and Italy. Her total bills amounted to £119,279 and included a flight by scheduled airline to New Zealand.

Sir Peter will want to know why she called on the Queen's Flight or used charter flights for herself and a handful of officials on 16 out of 24 occasions, including a trip to Kiev.

The Chancellor also invariably uses the RAF fleet to attend European finance ministers' meetings in Brussels. Britain's European partners have noticed that Gordon Brown likes to avoid having to stay overnight in Brussels.

In the year to March 2004, the Chancellor ran up bills of £25,967 on official flights. This excluded flights paid for by the International Monetary Fund.

John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, logged £43,595 at the taxpayers' expense but most of those were on scheduled flights, and included trips on behalf of the Prime Minister to the US. He used the Queen's Flight only once, to go to Spain for a peace march last March.

The Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, clocked up £26,804, including a trip to Sydney in November 2003, for the Rugby World Cup final. All her flights were on scheduled airlines.

Sir Peter also may reopen the row over the use of helicopters to fly the Duke of York to events which coincided with golf tournaments. Ian Davidson, a Labour member of the public accounts committee, has asked the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, to investigate reports that Prince Andrew spent £325,000 on air travel last year.

The cost of flights for the Royal Family rose from £2,996,000 to £3,623,000. Most of that went on helicopters. The Queen's accounts conceal the true cost of air travel abroad, critics say. The accounts show that the Queen is increasingly using scheduled flights to travel abroad but is using the Queen's Flight when she arrives at her foreign destination. The cost of flying a small passenger jet out to meet her is charged to the defence budget and is, it is claimed, written off by the MoD as a training flight.

FREQUENT FLIERS

Overseas flight costs, including private charter and RAF aircraft, for the top five ministers in the 2003-2004 financial year

1 £916,000: Tony Blair, Prime Minister

2 £746,984: Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary

3 £142,638: Clare Short until May 2003, Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary since May 2003,

4 £126,806: Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary

5 £119,279: Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
 
#2
Whats the point? There will be an inquiry with such a narrow remit by some lifelong and tediously boring (you can tell by their photos) civil servant who will state that something happened but no-one (including the pilot or aircrew) can remember exactly what. The El Presidente will be exonnerrated and some stewardess will get the sack. :evil:
 
#3
1 £916,000: Tony Blair, Prime Minister

2 £746,984: Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary

3 £142,638: Clare Short until May 2003, Hilary Benn, International Development Secretary since May 2003,

4 £126,806: Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary

5 £119,279: Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I find no 5 the most impressive. What possible justification is there for spending 120 grand on flying the farm minister about?
The rest are still spending obscene amounts, but there are obvious reasons for their travel, though not for the method.
 
#4
chris said:
By Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor
11 January 2005

Sir Peter has been told to take into account the increasing security risks, which could tip the balance in favour of keeping an RAF fleet of planes for the Royal Family and ministers.

The Royal Family's financial report last year hinted at increasing frustration over the growing demands on the planes by ministers. The planes are also becoming increasingly unreliable, which has led to more private jets being chartered by the Queen and senior members of her family for state business.
So he isn't being given any direction for his findings then?

The Queen to tell them to p*ss off and fly civair!

Are this government the biggest bunch of free loaders outside of Brussels or wot :evil: :evil:

Need a coffe now and was trying to give up 8O
 
#5
So its been whitewashed already before he began to investigate :roll:

typical of this shower of shiite :evil:

Security is not a dirty word - New Labour is :twisted:
 
#6
A_team_lewis said:
5 £119,279: Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I find no 5 the most impressive. What possible justification is there for spending 120 grand on flying the farm minister about?
The rest are still spending obscene amounts, but there are obvious reasons for their travel, though not for the method.
Now don't be too critical A_T_L. Horseface has a very full agenda of issues that we, the ungrateful public, must be made to understand. These include the pressing need for more and more airports to enable her to get around and spread her message on the need to reduce, erm, pollution. :roll:
 
#7
What a wated opportunity! The RAF could have stated that due to the savage cutbacks they've been forced to swallow in order to pay for eurofighter, the only cost effective way to ship the Adams family would be by Herc. They could have put them on one full of roulement troops heading for Iraq, they would have learnt first hand what the soldiers in this country think of their mummy and daddy. Having dropped the lads off safely they could re route to Egypt. Unfortunately the flight would have to divert (engine trouble), sadly because the Spams stll haven't put a NOTAM up about the half constructed airfield the 130H creamed in on, they'd get a bit of a bumpy ride...

Incidently, if security is such an issue, why did they have to go on holiday to EGYPT FFS? What's wrong with Hexham or Boscastle this time of year?
 
#8
RTFQ said:
Incidently, if security is such an issue, why did they have to go on holiday to EGYPT FFS? What's wrong with Hexham or Boscastle this time of year?
Apparently he had to visit the Sheikh Yer Booty (or whatever) which makes it an OFFICIAL engagement. Makes you want to spit :evil: The worse thing is the cnuts won't even try to justify it as they know they are bulletproof. The inquiry seems to be whether there is a requirement for Queen's Flt (more defence cuts?) as to abuse of it.
 
#9
A_team_lewis said:
5 £119,279: Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
I find no 5 the most impressive. What possible justification is there for spending 120 grand on flying the farm minister about?
quote]

To show her what the countryside actually looks like, that from the air it looks different from a "town", so she could see it without getting her shoes dirty, and to spot all those society-destroying fox hunters.

Of course it's necessary! :evil:
 
#13
If BLiar can justify a free holiday to Egypt by claiming he had to attend a meeting with some Sheik then I hereby call a meeting of all interested Arrse Bandits in Melbourne Australia for next weekend. After an hours discussion of important affairs of state its down to the beach for beer and BBQ.

Right all you crabs here is youir golden opportunity to make up for years of jacking us all around. Where is that Queens flight?
 
#14
Not that I like the feckers but - just to play Devils Advocate:

If Govt Ministers and the Royals DIDN'T use these aircraft, what would be the cost of the unit given that the aircraft still have to be maintained and the aircrew still have to keep up their flying hours? Half the time they're just getting dizzy going around in circles doing touch-and-goes!
 
#15
The 125s are often used to fly senior officers to and from operational theatres.

Like so many RAF ac, 32 Sqn's fleet is getting on a bit - the BAe146s entered service in 1986, and the 125s in 1983, so they've had good value from them.

If they didn't have a Royal/VIP role both ac types could still be used, the 146s especially for short-haul movements. It would also be an ideal aeromed a/c, if only they'd bought the version with a door big enough for a stretcher!
 
#16
MikeMcc said:
Not that I like the feckers but - just to play Devils Advocate:

If Govt Ministers and the Royals DIDN'T use these aircraft, what would be the cost of the unit given that the aircraft still have to be maintained and the aircrew still have to keep up their flying hours?
I don't think there is a problem with ministers etc using the planes for official reasons but using it like it's their own personal run around is what is gripping people.
 
#17
More details emerge. From the Telegraph:


An RAF crew enjoyed eight nights' upmarket accommodation plus expenses at taxpayers' cost during Tony Blair's recent holiday to Egypt, The Telegraph can reveal.



One RAF member close to the team of at least six, which flew the Prime Minister to the luxury resort of Sharm el Sheikh at Christmas, has complained that the "whole thing is just a huge junket" for staff.

The Blair family used the Queen's Flight, an RAF 32 Squadron BAe146 aircraft to get to the Red Sea resort. The cost of the Queen's Flight would have run to tens of thousands of pounds.

Now concern has been expressed about the amounts paid from the public purse to the crew of at least eight who accompanied Mr Blair and had to stay in Egypt for the duration of his holiday.

The RAF staff member told The Telegraph: "I know the guys on the Queen's Flight. They call them 'indulgence flights' and everybody wants to get on them.

"It's a privileged club. They stay in the best hotels, drinking and making merry. They all came back this time with a great tan. They said they had been on the beach.

"They also get daily allowances which are phenomenal. It's all expenses paid. They don't have to spend a penny while they are out there.

"The taxpayer ought to know what goes on."

Last night Downing Street said that Mr Blair reluctantly used the BAe146 aircraft to take him, his wife and four children to the resort on December 26 after security chiefs overruled his plans to travel privately.

Mr Blair had bought flights for himself and his family from Thomas Cook in August but was forced to cancel at the last minute and take the RAF plane, which is armoured.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mr Blair had then paid the same amount as his commercial flights into the public purse by way of payment for the Queen's Flight, which costs thousands of pounds an hour to run. He did not know whether Thomas Cook had reimbursed him and could not say how much he had paid.

The spokesman added: "The commercial flight takes four hours. The RAF flight takes eight. Which one would you prefer? This is not something the Prime Minister wanted."

However it is understood that security fears emerged because Mr Blair's insistence on flying to the same resort for four years running led to journalists arriving in Sharm el Sheikh before him.

The Prime Minister will be forced to declare for the first time how much he pays for the use of the private planes if a Tory MP's campaign for more openness about his holidays is successful. Downing Street said the issue of crew expenses was "entirely a matter for the RAF".

An MoD spokesman said: "Obviously we seek best value for money but we weigh that against operational need."

He said the crew would stay in budget hotels "wherever possible" but added: "We need to balance this against operational need, and whether they need to be near to the plane and the Prime Minister."

Chris Grayling, the Tory MP who is campaigning for more information to be made available about the Prime Minister's holidays, said: "This is Blair behaving like royalty. He cannot have it both ways.

"He cannot insist that he was only acting under pressure from his security people when we know that his security people wanted him to go somewhere else in the first place.

"There cannot be an justification for keeping an executive jet parked in the Middle East for a week, with the crew all put up in plush hotels, at the taxpayers' expense."

Mr Grayling, MP for Epsom and Ewell, has put in two requests at the Ministry of Defence under the Freedom of Information Act to find out how much Mr Blair is paying for the use of the Queen's Flight and whether any other ministers are doing the same thing.

He sparked an investigation by Sir Philip Mawer, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, last month into claims that Mr Blair failed to declare in the Commons register of interests his holiday with a French tobacco magnate.

Last week Sir Philip informed Mr Grayling that he did not intend to force Mr Blair to declare the holiday with Alain Dominique Perrin.

Mr Grayling said: "I'm disappointed and a little surprised but I obviously have to accept the commissioner's decision."
Can't say I'm surprised.
 
#18
The RAF staff member told The Telegraph: "I know the guys on the Queen's Flight. They call them 'indulgence flights' and everybody wants to get on them.
Methinks the Telegraph’s informant is not RAF at all. I suspect a civvy (possibly a journo) or a sprog Crab who has heard the term ‘indulgence flight’ and jumped to confusions. As for the ‘best hotels,’ good hotels rooms can be acquired cheaply, especially outside Europe and at government rates. What does the informant want the crew to do while waiting for their passengers to return? Sit on the aircraft for days with their bagmeals and a big book? Take a tent? Live in local barracks as if they have the right? Return to the UK and stay in their own barracks, then fly back to collect the passengers? The latter is not technically, economically or environmentally sound. Getting a bronzy at the taxpayers’ expense is not a matter for outrage.


"They also get daily allowances which are phenomenal. It's all expenses paid. They don't have to spend a penny while they are out there.
Phenomenal? There is such thing as ‘all expenses’ for any public servant.

The crew part is a non story. Surprised to see the Telegraph giving it column inches.
 
#19
Seadog said:
Return to the UK and stay in their own barracks, then fly back to collect the passengers? The latter is not technically, economically or environmentally sound. Getting a bronzy at the taxpayers’ expense is not a matter for outrage.
is this strictly true? The aircraft was therefore unavailable for any other tasking for 9 or 10 days. Hardly seems very efficient use of an expensive aircraft and crew.
 
#20
Chimera wrote

The aircraft was therefore unavailable for any other tasking for 9 or 10 days
It's just possible it wasn't needed for any other tasking. It's a Queen's Flight aircraft we are talking about, not a tsunami aid carrying freighter. Think of the avcat and air saved.

I'm sure if HM wanted her aircraft it would have come back and Bliar would have to wait.
 

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