Rishi Sunak accused of behaving like an ‘A-list celebrity’ as he uses taxpayer-funded RAF jet again

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Rishi Sunak was accused of behaving like an ‘A-List celebrity’ today as he used the RAF to fly 250 miles to northern England to promote Government help for deprived areas. 

The Prime Minister took a posh air force jet reserved for VIPs this morning from RAF Northolt in north west London to Blackpool, the closest airport to Morecambe, where he will speak later.

No10 confirmed what is his third use of an RAF aircraft in the past 10 days to travel to parts of Britain with mainline train links to London.

He flew to Edinburgh to see Nicola Sturgeon and Leeds to visit an NHS unit for a photo op last week. 

It came as he was forced to defend his levelling-up fund today as it came under fire from Tory MPs in Red Wall seats who claimed the £2.1billion cash pot was biased towards affluent areas in the south east. 

The Prime Minister said grants announced today were ‘levelling-up in action’ amid claims that areas which voted Tory for the first time in 2019 were missing out. 

The 41-minute flight today allowed him to avoid using the Avanti West Coast Mainline train service, which has been much criticised in recent months for horrific performance and punctuality. An 8.30am train from Euston could get him to Morecambe at 1025 if running on time. 

No10 denied he flew to avoid the trains, but Tory MP Mark Jenkinson, whose seat is in Cumbria, defended the flight, saying it would be ‘madness’ for the PM to take an ‘unreliable’ rail service. 

Labour attacked the flight cost at a time when ordinary families are under financial pressure from soaring bills.

Rishi Sunak buying sweets with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (left) during a community project visit to Accrington Market Hall in Lancashire today

Rishi Sunak buying sweets with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt (left) during a community project visit to Accrington Market Hall in Lancashire today

Number 10 posted pictures online last week showing the PM boarding the French-made executive jet, which can carry 14 people, to visit Leeds

Number 10 posted pictures online last week showing the PM boarding the French-made executive jet, which can carry 14 people, to visit Leeds

 

A posh air force jet reserved for VIPs flew this morning from RAF Northolt in north west London to Blackpool, the closest airport to Morecambe, where the PM is expected to speak later.

A posh air force jet reserved for VIPs flew this morning from RAF Northolt in north west London to Blackpool, the closest airport to Morecambe, where the PM is expected to speak later.

Tory MP Mark Jenkinson, whose seat is in Cumbria, defended the flight, saying it would be 'madness' for the PM to take an 'unreliable' train.

Tory MP Mark Jenkinson, whose seat is in Cumbria, defended the flight, saying it would be ‘madness’ for the PM to take an ‘unreliable’ train.

Sunak defends £19m cash pot for his constituency 

Rishi Sunak has defended the £19 million of levelling-up funding going to rejuvenating a high street in his wealthy Richmond constituency.

The money is going towards town centre improvements in North Yorkshire’s Catterick Garrison, home to many British Army units.

Speaking to broadcasters in a visit to Accrington, the Prime Minister said: ‘If you look at the overall funding in the levelling-up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived part of our country.

‘With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.

‘It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.

‘I’m really grateful to all our armed forces personnel for the incredible job that they do and I’m delighted that this investment will support them.’

A Labour spokeswoman said: ‘Rishi Sunak isn’t even trying to hide these recklessly expensive habits anymore. 

‘Jetting around the country on taxpayers money like an A-list celeb rather than catching a train like the rest of us is simply absurd.’

The ministerial code says ministers should ‘ensure that they always make efficient and cost-effective travel arrangements’.

It adds: ‘Only members of the Cabinet and ministers in charge of departments have discretion to authorise special flights either for themselves or other ministers within their departments. 

‘Non-scheduled flights may be authorised when a scheduled service is not available, or when it is essential to travel by air, but the requirements of official or Parliamentary business or security considerations preclude the journey being made by a scheduled service.’

The Prime Minister’s spokesman told reporters: ‘As I’ve said on a number of occasions, the Prime Minister will use different modes of transport depending on what’s in the best interest of the best use of his time to enable him to get around the entire UK.

‘He’s going to three different locations in the UK today. He’s spoken to the Prime Minister of Israel. He’ll be back in Downing Street later. So, we use the right modes of transport to enable him to do that.’

Asked if Mr Sunak wished that trains were reliable enough to use, the spokesman said: ‘That’s not the factor that obviously decides this and you’ll know we are investing huge sums into our railways.’

The official could not indicate when the Prime Minister last travelled by train, saying: ‘I haven’t asked him that question.’

After arriving in the north, Mr Sunak denied the levelling-up spending was an example of ‘pork barrel politics’ as he insisted the most funding per person is going to the north of England.

Just half of the successful bids are in the top 100 most deprived areas of Britain. The Prime Minister’s own affluent Richmond constituency in Yorkshire is receiving £19million in funding, with money going to the Catterick Garrison, home to many British Army units, to regenerate the town centre. 

One Tory MP told the Times: ‘People are apoplectic. There are some really wealthy areas on the list. It looks awful. It’s gone down terribly among red wall MPs.’ 

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Accrington, the Prime Minister said: ‘The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the North.

‘That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.

Levelling-up funding in your area 

Here is a regional breakdown of the levelling up funding:

  • Yorkshire and the Humber: £120,619,162
  • West Midlands: £155,579,834
  • Wales: £208,175,566
  • South West: £186,663,673
  • South East: £210,467,526
  • Scotland: £177,206,114
  • Northern Ireland: £71,072,373
  • North West: £354,027,146
  • North East: £108,548,482
  • London: £151,266,674
  • East Midlands: £176,870,348
  • East: £165,903,400

The £2.1 billion allocated to projects comes from the overall £4.8 billion levelling up fund announced in 2020.

‘We’re delivering on what we said, we’re investing in local communities, this is levelling up in action.

Among the 80 projects earmarked for funding is the Eden Project North in Morecambe, which received £50 million for a regeneration project designed to transform the Lancashire town’s seafront.

The Cardiff Crossrail plan was also allocated £50 million, while the department said that a new roll-on, roll-off ferry for Fair Isle in the Shetlands would get nearly £27 million.

The Department for Levelling Up promised that the latest round of levelling up funding would deliver much-needed economic growth and new jobs to communities across the country, as the Prime Minister promised to ‘build a future of optimism’.

But Labour accused the Government of presiding over a ‘Hunger Games-style contest where communities are pitted against one another’.

The Government said that £2.1 billion in funding had been split between £672 million to develop better transport links, £821 million for community regeneration, and £594 million to go towards restoring local heritage sites.

The levelling up vision was one pioneered by former prime minister Boris Johnson, who promised to ‘level up’ towns and communities across the UK.

Michael Gove, the Levelling-Up Secretary, denied that the relatively affluent South East is receiving more levelling up money than communities in the North.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Well, that’s not quite true. If you look at it in terms of the amount of money allocated per person, then it is the case that it’s the North West, the North East, Wales, which do best of all.

Mr Sunak's Government was forced onto the defensive today as it came under fire from Tory MPs in Red Wall seats who claimed the £2.1billion Levelling-Up fund was biased towards affluent areas in the south east.

Mr Sunak’s Government was forced onto the defensive today as it came under fire from Tory MPs in Red Wall seats who claimed the £2.1billion Levelling-Up fund was biased towards affluent areas in the south east.

Among the 80 projects earmarked for funding is the Eden Project North in Morecambe, which received £50 million for a regeneration project designed to transform the Lancashire town's seafront.

Among the 80 projects earmarked for funding is the Eden Project North in Morecambe, which received £50 million for a regeneration project designed to transform the Lancashire town’s seafront.

No10 has previously defended the PM’s use of RAF aircraft instead of scheduled train services or his ministerial car, saying there was ‘a great deal of pressure on his time’. 

Last week it posted pictures online showing him boarding the French-made Envoy executive jet, which can carry 14 people in front of a saluting serviceman before flying to Leeds.

He is the latest minister to face questions over their use of official government aircraft for journeys that could be done by cheaper – albeit slower – forms of transport. 

Last November Home Secretary Suella Braverman used an RAF chinook helicopter to travel 30 miles from Dover to the Manston migrant camp at the height of the Channel boat crisis.

She was spotted disembarking from the aircraft wearing a Top Gun-style pilots’ helmet. Sources close to the Home Secretary said it was so she could ‘see the breadth of the coastline’ that Border Force officials are having to monitor as thousands continue to arrive in Britain from across the Channel.

During the helicopter journey, Dan O’Mahoney, Border Force’s clandestine threat commander, was said to have pointed out locations to Mrs Braverman where migrants’ small boats are brought to shore.



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