Civil servants racking up the air miles in the last three years
THE Northern Ireland Office has spent more than £850,000 on air travel in the last three years, it has been revealed.
But it is civil servants from the department rather than ministers who accounted for the majority of flight costs.
Since 2020 the NIO has forked out just over £574,000 flying officials to various destinations, including travelling to and from Belfast and London.
Three ministers — the Secretary of State, Minister of State and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State — racked up just under £280,000 in air travel expenses in the same period.
The NIO has 181 civil servants on its payroll, giving an average spend on flights of just under £4,700 per head for the period covered.
It also has a further 159 staff at various arm’s-length bodies for which it is responsible and a departmental budget of just over £29m.
Its headquarters is on Horse Guards in London’s Whitehall and its Belfast base is in Erskine House.
The highest yearly spend on air travel was 2020 when the NIO shelled out £514,306 for both civil servants and ministers.
This fell dramatically to £61,826 in 2021 due to the impact of the pandemic.
But this year, to date, the department has already racked up £277,790 on air travel.
The breakdown of the costs was given in a response to a House of Commons written question.
The amount of air travel for a relatively small department was also criticised by Friends of the Earth on environmental grounds.
Its Northern Ireland director James Orr said: “At a time when the Northern Ireland Assembly has declared a climate emergency and passed our first ever Climate Act, we need to see action not words.
“The NIO should show climate leadership to minimise flights and to set an example to the wider community.
“We know that it is a tiny percentage of the world’s population that is most responsible for global aviation emissions and it is these frequent flyers who need to act fast to reduce atmospheric pollution that is causing climate breakdown.”
For the majority of the period covered the minister in charge was Brandon Lewis.
He resigned from the Government amid the fall of Boris Johnson and was replaced by Shailesh Vara.
The top mandarin at the NIO is Madeleine Alessandri, who pockets a salary of between £150,000 and £160,000.
In 2020/2021 she received a bonus of between £10,000 to £15,000.
In an interview with Civil Service World last December she praised the NIO officials and how the department dealt with the challenges of Covid “with grit, resilience and a fantastic team that supported each other and kept going the extra mile, after mile, after mile”.
She added: “I can’t stress how proud I am of the Northern Ireland Office team.”
Ms Alessandri is the first woman to head up the department since it was established in 1972.