13,090 domestic flights in year for Corrections

Department of Corrections staff jetted off on more than 13,090 flights around the country in the past financial year - an average of 50 trips every working day - with taxpayers footing the $5.3 million bill.

Figures released under the Official Information Act to the Otago Daily Times also reveal department staff took 175 international flights, spending $53,191 crossing the Tasman and $201,433 flying to other international destinations.

The department has defended its travel costs by saying its spending is similar to that of other large government departments, but has said its travel expenditure is being reviewed.

The figures for the period between July 1, 2008 and June 30 this year show the department's 7000 staff spent $5,650,898 on air travel in that time, with most of that money - $5,396,270 - used to pay for flights around New Zealand.

Over a five-day working week, that equates to a total of 51 flights every day.

The department could not immediately provide the cost of flying prisoners to various prisons throughout New Zealand.

In a statement issued yesterday, Department of Corrections business information and planning general manager John Bole said "a significant proportion" of the department's costs related to the need for staff to escort prisoners, although he still did not say how much of the $5.6 million bill had been spent on that area.

Staff also needed to travel to attend meetings and training workshops, Mr Bole said.

The department's response to this newspaper's OIA request said it employed a travel management company that handled all bookings.

It used all available airlines and had a "best fare of the day" policy.

"The department has a policy to book as far in advance as possible. On average, this is 15 working days."

It said it was the second largest core government department, with more than 7000 staff.

"Those staff are spread throughout the country and often have to travel considerable distances as part of their work."

The ODT filed its Official Information Act request on June 30.

The department has 20 working days to respond but took 32 working days to file its formal response.

Figures from the department's 2007-08 annual report show staff were flown a total of 15 million km in that 12-month period.

The report does not reveal how much that travel cost.

The majority of that travel - 13,983,045km - was on domestic routes.

Staff travelled 561,207km across the Tasman and a further 455,291km to other countries.

Mr Bole said the department had a strict travel policy and all international travel must be approved by Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews.

"New Zealand is a small country and it is sometimes necessary for staff to visit other correctional jurisdictions or attend international conferences to ensure that we are delivering a world-class and secure corrections system."

Cost was a "key consideration" when considering whether travel should be approved and what mode of travel was involved.

Staff flew economy unless the direct flight time was more than 10 hours.

Given the current economic environment, every aspect of the department's expenditure was being reviewed, including travel, he said.

Neither Mr Matthews nor Finance Minister Bill English could be contacted for comment.

Labour's corrections spokesman, Clayton Cosgrove, said the number of daily flights seemed like "an extraordinary figure".

Although he had not seen the full figures, he suggested it was an example of double standards from the Government which had claimed to be trimming costs during tight economic times.

glenn.conway@odt.co.nz

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