COUNCIL chiefs have defended spending thousands on more than 300 flights to Europe and say the trips have been vital to pull in millions of EU funding, which has now been jeopardised by Brexit.

Research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance (TPA) has revealed that Oldham Council has spent £65,022 on flights for its officers since 2015.

But the town hall insisted that “more than 70 pc” of the travel was not paid for by the authority, but funded instead by the European Union.

In total 319 journeys were taken by air, with 314 to destinations in Europe, and five international flights.

Deputy council leader Cllr Abdul Jabbar said: “It is paid for by the EU as part of the budgets for such projects so it comes at virtually no cost to the taxpayer of Oldham with enormous benefit.

“European funding has been vital to Oldham and Greater Manchester as a whole which is why Britain’s exit from the European Union will be such a devastating blow to us.

“Over the last 20 years, it’s given us in the region of £100 million which has been absolutely vital to our town.”

Cllr Jabbar added that European money had fully or partially funded a range of major projects in the region, such as the Metrolink, the development of Manchester Airport and the Regional Science Centre.

It had also been responsible for smaller projects like health and wellbeing, business support and educational initiatives, he said.

“Maintaining good relations within the EU has been vital to securing those funds and, in order to create that environment where people are willing to invest in Oldham, there is certainly a requirement for our officers to travel to Europe occasionally,” he added.

The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information requests by the TPA, reveal that between January 1, 2015 and February 2018, at least £6.7 million was spent by English, Welsh and Scottish local authorities on flights.

On average, each town hall spent £29,152 on flights.

Among the more peculiar journeys taken were by Liverpool City Council, which took flights to Kabul, Somaliland, Basra, and Liberia.

Manchester City Council sent staff to Hong Kong, and Sunderland City Council spent £26,584 on six business class flights to Tokyo.

And Northamptonshire County Council spend more than £9,000 on six flights to Montego Bay in Jamaica.