Blair's globe-trotting bill doubles despite pledge to stay home

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair faced criticism after admitting he spent £2m on diplomatic travel across the globe last year.

His travel bill more than doubled to £2,023,909 last year, despite pledging at the start of the year to concentrate on domestic politics.

Mr Blair's trips included spending nearly £500,000 on taking 23 officials to Singapore to lobby for London's successful 2012 Olympic bid. He also paid nearly £430,000 for his six-day tour of Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia in March.

The Prime Minister's 22 international visits came despite his acknowledgement during last year's Labour spring conference that he had spent too much time on the international stage because of the war in Iraq. He declared at the time: "I'm back and it feels good".

Figures for the amount of taxpayers' money spent on ministerial travel between March 2005 and April this year showed Mr Blair spent £118,000 on a trip to Washington for talks with President George Bush in June last year, and nearly £140,000 on travelling to attend the UN Millennium Summit in New York. He also paid more than £100,000 travelling to South Africa for the Progressive Governance Summit in February, the figures showed.

Mr Blair's travel made up a third of the overall ministerial travel and accommodation bill of £6.1m.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker said: "It is clear that the Prime Minister is spending more and more time abroad in direct proportion to his popularity dipping at home.

"The massive increase in money he has spent this year on flights suggests that there is no cheque he will not sign providing it's a blank one on the taxpayers' bank account.

John Prescott made 15 visits, 10 of them by scheduled airline or mainly or solely by Eurostar, costing £81,860. The most expensive was a tour of Eastern European countries preparing for Britain's EU presidency, where a charter plane cost £18,120.

His controversial trip to Washington, Austin, Texas, Denver and Los Angeles last July, when he met the casino developer Philip Anschutz, cost £12,600.

Mr Blair and Mr Prescott made little use of the Royal Flight jets of 32 Squadron. But the exclusive service was heavily used by other ministers.

Margaret Beckett, the then environment Secretary, used the Squadron 19 times, mainly for short hops to Brussels and Luxembourg to attend European meetings. Jack Straw, the then Foreign Secretary, used the squadron 20 times, again mainly for trips to Brussels, despite the regular Eurostar train services.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said: "The Prime Minister and other ministers would get to and from Brussels more quickly and more environmentally soundly if they took the Eurostar rather than the Queen's Flight."

Flights made by Downing Street and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) were "offset" by investing in carbon reducing projects around the world.

Flights during Britain's presidency of the EU were offset. Offsetting flights became standard across the Government in April.

A Defra spokesman said: "A full RAF flight costs the department less per person than if the ministerial team flew by commercial airline.

"Furthermore, there are occasions when meetings end at unpredictable hours, sometimes in the middle of the night, when there is no alternative transport available.

"Returning to the UK immediately allows attendance at high-level meetings early the next morning and represents savings on hotel accommodation and subsistence for the ministerial party."

Ministerial gifts

John Reid, then Defence Secretary

* Gold ornate dagger from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (held by the department)

* Ceremonial sword from the Danish government (held by the department)

* Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary

* Silver bowl from the Indian parliamentary cricket team (held by the department)

* Carriage clock from the Crown Prince of Bahrain (bought by Mr Straw for £225.

* John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister

* Stetson hat, boots, spurs, belt, buckle and leather bound notebook from Philip Anschutz (held by the department)

Tony Blair, Prime Minister

* Lead crystal vase from the government of Italy (bought by Mr Blair for £150)

* Russian commemorative coins from President Putin,below, (bought by Mr Blair for £200)

* Wine from President Chirac (held by the Prime Minister's office)

* Rugs from the Indian, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan governments (held by the PM's office)

* Bronze sculpture from the president of Ukraine (held by the PM's office)

* Picture from the government of Saudi Arabia (held by the PM's office)

* Clock from King of Bahrain (held by the PM's office)

* Clock and Jewellery from the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (abobe).

* Commemorative plaque from the president of Azerbaijan (held by the PM's office)

* Print of London scene from the London 2012 bid (bought by Mr Blair for £300)

* Gordon Brown, Chancellor of the Exchequer

* Toy Ferrari from the Italian finance minister (bought by Mr Brown for £190)

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