Rishi Sunak took a £16,000 one-way trip to Leeds on a helicopter courtesy of a firm owned by Frank Hester, the Tory megadonor, taking the total for the prime minister’s donor-funded air travel to more than £100,000 this year.
The prime minister once again showed his fondness for short-haul air travel as he took a helicopter from Battersea to Leeds Bradford airport last month – a journey of about 90 minutes. The quickest train from London to Leeds takes about 2 hours and 13 minutes, and costs in the region of £60 off-peak.
Sunak registered the trip as paid for by The Phoenix Partnership (TPP), which as a group has won more than £135m of NHS and government contracts to supply IT since April 2020.
Labour said it was the fourth helicopter ride taken by Sunak that was funded by wealthy Conservative party donors who have been paying tens of thousands of pounds to allow the prime minister to avoid public transport or long car journeys. His regular private air travel has also raised questions about the prime minister’s commitment to tackling the climate crisis.
Hester, who is sole owner of the company, made a £5m donation to the Conservatives earlier this year – the joint biggest gift by a living donor. TPP has previously said it was “unequivocally apolitical”.
Jo Maugham, the director of the Good Law Project, said: “None of us can look into Mr Hester’s mind to see what motivates him to make these generous donations to Mr Sunak and his government of vast sums of money and a helicopter ride. What is beyond doubt is that he has made an enormous fortune from contracts given to him by the government.”
Sunak has long been criticised for taking flights and helicopters for short trips, including an RAF chopper from London to Dover, despite the trip being just over an hour by train.
Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney general, said: “Yet again we have the prime minister asking a Tory donor to pay thousands of pounds for a luxury helicopter just so he doesn’t have to spend two hours on a train with the general public.
“If it seems like it happens every month, that’s because it usually does. Four different donors this year for four different helicopters, to go with the two he normally uses at taxpayers’ expense. If he spent half as much time thinking about the country’s cost of living as he does about his own options for flying, we would all be a damn sight better off.”
During the visit, which was in the same constituency as TPP’s main office, Sunak visited a jewellery maker and was later mocked on social media for having used a hammer sideways – even though he was told to do so by the instructor.
TPP supplies software to about 2,700 GP surgeries in England as well as support services to allow them to hold medical records for patients electronically.
Downing Street and TPP have been approached for comment.