from Sunday Herald, 29 June 2008
Civil servants have failed to kick their flying habit. In the last year Scottish government officials have spent £1 million of public money taking 8,700 flights between Scotland and England.
On average they made 36 flights every working day, mostly between Edinburgh and London. They also flew regularly to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds and Inverness.
As part of its bid to “go greener”, the Scottish government is urging members of the public to “choose not to fly when there's a suitable alternative”. The vast majority of the journeys made by civil servants can be easily done by train.
But one of the reasons why officials choose to fly is because there is a scheme which encourages them to do so. They are “taking advantage of the government air fare programme which offers discounted fares to government departments”, says the Scottish government.
The average cost of officials’ return air fares was £225.26. A few, including a £1,012.26 return from Edinburgh to Bristol and a £782.30 return from Edinburgh to Manchester, seem expensive. Other trips are said to have cost as little as £4.
Detailed information on government flights within mainland Britain between 3 May 2007 and 30 April 2008 was released last week in response to a freedom of information request by the Sunday Herald. It also included the number of flights taken by ministers.
Some 56 return journeys by air were made by 15 ministers, with the most - 12 - being made by the First Minister, Alex Salmond. Other frequent fliers were the Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini (9): the Europe minister, Linda Fabiani (6); the public health minister, Shona Robison (5) and the environment minister, Richard Lochhead (4)
The Scottish government pointed out that the number of flights being made by officials and ministers was decreasing. An earlier investigation by the Sunday Herald revealed that civil servants made over 10,000 individual flights and ministers made 87 return flights within mainland Britain between October 2005 and September 2006.
“The Scottish government recognises that it must address its contribution to climate change,” said a government spokesman. “We are committed to a 20% reduction in business travel emissions, covering all modes, against 2005/06 levels by 2011, building to a 40% reduction by 2020.”
But this didn’t satisfy the government’s environmental critics. “It's yet another case of ‘do what we say, not what we do’ from Scotland's bureaucrats, and SNP ministers should hang their heads in shame for having failed to change the culture of their departments,” said the Green MSP Patrick Harvie.
According to Duncan Mclaren, chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, there was “no excuse” for civil servants to fly to and from London. “The train links and modern telecommunications mean it is unnecessary,” he said. “And if civil servants in London won’t arrange meetings to suit train times, then they should be replaced by those who will.”