'Jet-setting' government clocked up 300 million air miles last year

Ministers were accused of hypocrisy and extravagance after the Conservatives calculated that Whitehall departments and major public bodies clocked up more than 300 million "air miles" last year.

The Tories said the flights would have been enough to take politicians and civil servants to the moon 1,280 times or make 12,240 journeys around the world.

The figures came after the Sustainable Development Commission, an environmental watchdog, warned the Government that it urgently needed to "raise its game" to reduce its environmental footprint. It called on Whitehall to set a target for cutting air travel in favour of greener alternatives.

The Tories calculated the total journeys by public bodies after obtaining details of the amount of carbon offsetting by the Government in 2006-07. It was the first time Whitehall has disclosed the figures for carbon offsetting.

The highest air travel totals were recorded by the Foreign Office (90.5 million miles), the Ministry of Defence (43.4 million, excluding military travel) and the Department for International Development (42.2 million).

But several largely domestic departments also ran up large totals. The Cabinet Office, including Downing Street, accumulated 38.5 million miles, HM Revenue and Customs staff covered 17.3 million miles and the Home Office accounted for 9.4 million miles.

Ministers and officials from the Department for Communities and Local Government covered 555,000 miles travelling to four continents, while the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs covered 1,658,000 miles to the likes of Thailand and Australia.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police travelled 16.9 million miles, Transport for London 1.6 million miles and the Greater London Authority 637,000 miles.

The Tories estimated the total travel by ministers and civil servants over the period to be 306 million miles. They claimed the price of the tickets to the taxpayer would have been £50m, excluding expenses such as hotel bills and the cost of food. Francis Maude, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "Ministers – and Ken Livingstone – are failing to practise what they preach on the environment, as they and their civil servants jet around the world on foreign jaunts. Labour ministers should start showing some social responsibility and set clear targets to reduce unnecessary travel, in order to reduce carbon emissions and save taxpayers' money."

Tony Bosworth, senior transport campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: "Tackling aviation growth is essential to cutting climate change emissions. The Government should be setting an example and not use planes where there are good rail alternatives available."

A spokesman for the Cabinet Office said: "The Government would never indulge in unnecessary air travel, but no one should try to suggest Britain's interests can only be pursued over the phone. For example, Defra sent delegations to important international environmental talks, helping to secure crucial environmental commitments."

The Independent disclosed last week that two thirds of cabinet ministers travel in vehicles occupying the top emissions bands.

Favourite destinations

Between April 2006 and December 2007, ministers and staff from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and its agencies spent £1.8m on 2,361 separate flights to foreign countries

Australia £59,124

Austria £29,308

Belgium £59,889

Brazil £90,620

Canada £67,618

China £115,579

Denmark £22,220

Ethiopia £9,578

Finland £46,203

Germany £82,411

Hong Kong £26,770

India £109,694

Indonesia £104,045

Japan £71,898

Kenya £127,938

Luxembourg £30,090

Mexico £92,301

Switzerland £34,456

Thailand £39,160

United States £316,751

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