Bristol City Council staff rack up enough air miles over three years to fly to the moon

Staff have flown almost 240,000 miles to destinations including Tokyo and New York

Bristol City Council staff have racked up enough air miles over the past three years to fly to the moon.

New analysis shows that since 2019 council staff have flown almost 240,000 miles to destinations including Durban, Tokyo, Oman, Tallinn and New York.

The international trips have cost taxpayers in Bristol an estimated £29,000, including flights, food and hotels.

The massive scale of international travel has raised key questions about the environmental impact of flying so far so regularly, as well as whether the taxpayer is getting value for money.

One trip last year saw a council boss stay in a hotel in Toronto for three weeks, at a cost to the council of £1,640.

Councillor Katy Grant, Green shadow cabinet co-member for climate, said: “Some international travel is unavoidable for any big organisation participating in global processes and developments.

“But Bristol has declared a climate crisis, and the council has made commitments to reach net zero in its own emissions by 2024.

“I hope that like any organisation that takes the climate emergency seriously, the council is doing what it can to reduce its air miles as much as possible—choosing more sustainable forms of transport or using remote tools like Zoom to meet with people wherever possible.

“The Green Party recognise that flying is a systemic problem not an individual one and rather than blaming people for flying we need a structural solution.

“A small minority in the UK fly the most: 15% of people take 70% of flights. So we support the idea of a levy or tax on frequent fliers to discourage this.”

A flight taking to the skies at Manchester Airport

According to analysis by the TaxPayers’ Alliance, a think tank, staff at Bristol City Council collectively flew 239,969 miles between 2019 and 2021.

For context, that’s more than flying around the world nine times in a row, and even more than flying from Earth to the moon.

Reasons for travelling are diverse, including a balloon fiesta in Geneva, seeking foreign investors in Boston and Chicago, and attending conferences in places like Oslo, Rome and Guangzhou.

Details of staff international travel are published on the council’s website, including destinations, costs and length of stay. Many trips occurred before the pandemic.

While many international trips were funded by external parties—including Bloomberg, the Open Society foundation, and local councils in Bordeaux or Stuttgart—some trips were funded by Bristol City Council.

The council said it spends less than £10,000 a year on travel, a small part of its total yearly budget of £430 million.

Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “Taxpayers in Bristol will be furious at the foreign jollies they’ve been helping to fund.

“While the council lectures residents about a climate emergency, bureaucrats are sent on luxury trips round the world.

“Officials should hold meetings online or be sent packing.”

Other destinations flown to by Bristol City Council staff in the past three years include Bonn, Cologne, Seoul, Dublin, Nairobi, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bilbao, Valencia, Brussels, Lisbon, Vienna, Montpelier, Copenhagen, and Prague.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said: “It’s clear from the data that we regularly publish that, more often than not, external organisations—not council taxpayers—fund council officers’ flights. It meanwhile remains completely unclear as to who funds the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

“As a global city, we will continue to bring new investment and new jobs to Bristol, including more than £420 million for clean energy through the City Leap partnership. International travel costs the council less than £10,000 a year, out of an annual budget of over £430 million.”