Truly appalling! The damning verdict on £285million aid wasted on useless airport ... which could have paid for 7,500 care home beds

  • Britain spent £285m on South Atlantic airport that commercial planes can't use 
  • Money blown on St Helena could have funded more than 7,500 beds in care 
  • It was approved shortly after David Cameron and the Coalition came to power 
  • Issue of St Helena was noted by Charles Darwin on voyage on the Beagle in 1836 

Britain wasted £285million of foreign aid on a South Atlantic airport that commercial planes cannot even use, a damning report by MPs reveals today.

The amount of taxpayers’ money blown on the ‘white elephant’ on the island of St Helena could have funded more than 7,500 beds in England’s crisis-hit social care sector.

In a blistering report today, the Commons’ public accounts committee lambasts the ‘evasive’ Department for International Development over the disaster.

It says officials ‘unquestionably’ failed the taxpayer and that nobody has been held to account for the incompetence.

Britain wasted £285million of foreign aid on a South Atlantic airport that commercial planes cannot even use, a damning report by MPs reveals today

The report on another scandalous waste of foreign aid comes as senior MPs are demanding that money is diverted from the DfID’s bloated £12billion budget to tackle the social care crisis.

There are calls for Britain to abandon its target of spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid at a time when the care sector is close to ‘toppling over’.

The average weekly UK nursing home fee is £726, or £37,752 a year. The £285.5million squandered on the St Helena airport could have paid for a staggering 7,560 care home places for an entire year.

The project was approved shortly after David Cameron and the Coalition came to power. But, farcically, commercial aircraft have been unable to use the airport on the tiny British overseas territory because of dangerous wind conditions.

MPs said it was ‘staggering’ that ministers and officials did not foresee the problem of ‘wind shear’ – a sudden, powerful change in wind direction which can destabilise or even flip large aircraft.

Incredibly, the issue on St Helena – about 1,200 miles off the coast of West Africa – was noted by Charles Darwin on his voyage on the Beagle in 1836.

At one stage, the DfID was considering blowing the top off two mountains adjoining the airfield to counter the problem, but this idea was abandoned.

Meg Hillier, Labour chairman of the public accounts committee, said in the report: ‘The Government has an obligation to support St Helena but a £285million white elephant serves neither its people nor the taxpayers footing the bill.

‘The failure to undertake robust due diligence on this project is truly appalling. I also have serious concerns about the airport’s business case, which was marginal at best. The result is a disaster: a commercial airport that is not fit for purpose, no credible plan to salvage value for money, and no clarity on exactly who is responsible for the whole sorry mess.’

The airport was meant to start operating in May 2016 but test flights a month earlier revealed the problems.

While the airport has handled a small number of flights, wind shear has prevented the operation of a planned commercial service.

The average weekly UK nursing home fee is £726, or £37,752 a year. The £285.5million squandered on the St Helena airport could have paid for a staggering 7,560 care home places for an entire year

The report said the DfID had been ‘evasive’ over who should be held responsible for the fiasco.

It added: ‘There is also doubt over whether the airport, when operational, will lead to St Helena becoming financially self-sufficient, due to significant uncertainties over projected tourist growth figures and a lack of progress toward attracting investment. Thus far, the Department has unquestionably failed the residents of St Helena and the British taxpayer.’

Officials insisted that no compensation would be paid to Comair, the commercial airline which had planned to fly to the island. But the MPs’ report suggested the DfID may have over-egged potential tourism benefits to make the business case for the airport ‘stack up’.

DAILY MAIL COMMENT

Useless to commercial aircraft because of wind conditions first noted by Charles Darwin in 1836, St Helena’s airport stands as a grotesque monument to the madness of Britain’s foreign aid policy.

How can officials have poured £285.5million of our money into the project, without even asking the most basic questions about its viability? They might as well have tipped the cash into the Atlantic. Yet nobody has been held responsible for the waste.

Isn’t the sickening truth that in Whitehall’s warped world, the white elephant airport counts as a success, since it helped meet the Coalition’s idiotic target of spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid?

Until MPs tear up this recipe for corruption and waste, don’t let them dare tell frail and elderly victims of our social care crisis that Britain can’t afford to look after them.

On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond suggested for the first time that the 0.7 per cent aid target would be reviewed. It has been hugely controversial at a time when other departments have faced pressure to make cuts. 

Many believe the target should be abandoned, with the money used to fund the creaking social care sector. At the moment, ministers are planning to bail out social care by allowing town halls to hike council tax bills by an average of £80 next year – with a similar rise to follow in 2018.

But MPs and council bosses have pointed out that this is likely to be nowhere near enough to plug a £1.3billion black hole in the system.

Last night, Whitehall insiders said new International Development Secretary Priti Patel was ‘appalled by the internal and external failures’ involved in the St Helena project.

A DfID source added: ‘Officials and suppliers will be held to account. Poor value and poor performance must be rooted out. We owe it to the world’s poorest.’ 

A spokesman for the department said 18 flights had landed at the airport so far, with more due next week, adding: ‘One of the first things the Secretary of State did this summer was to take concrete actions to get the airport up and running and to ensure the lessons from this project are learnt. We are already seeing the results.’

The airport was initially approved by Labour, but put on hold by Gordon Brown in 2008. The Tory-Lib Dem Coalition then approved it soon after winning power in 2010.  

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