£200m of aid budget to be spent on St Helena airport – after lobbying from Lord Ashcroft

First posted on Left Foot Forward

Today’s Mirror reports international development secretary Andrew Mitchell has approved £200 million to be spent building an airport for the South Atlantic island of St Helena.

Lord-Ashcroft-David-CameronWhen news first broke of the proposals last July, MP Denis MacShane slammed it as:

“A scandal of Pergau Dam proportions.”

Why? Because the decision comes after lobbying from Tory donor and £127m tax avoider Lord Ashcroft.

In July 2010, just months after the Tories came to power following an election campaign he bankrolled, Ashcroft demanded to know:

“What the current plans are for an airport in St Helena?”

The Guardian reported at the time:

Ashcroft showed his commitment to the airport in December last year when he diverted his private jet, during a flight from Nairobi to Brazil, to fly low over the island.

As his jet swept over the island, Ashcroft was interviewed from the plane by a St Helena radio station. “I’m about 25,000 feet in the air descending, slowly descending at the moment so I should be over there in about 15 minutes time,” he said in the broadcast.

“I believe that you should have an airport, you should be able to open St Helena up to the world and I hope that an incoming Conservative government in due course will strongly support an airport there.”

Mitchell says the project will help boost tourism and help reduce the island’s dependency on aid, but given that £200 million earmarked for this airport is equivalent to the entire amount spent by the Department for International Development on water and sanitation in 2010, is this really the most effective use of British aid?

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