Downing Street spends £2.6m on renovations for White…

Downing Street has spent more than £2.6million on refurbishments so the Prime Minister can hold White House-style press briefings, it has emerged.   

An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the Government announced plans to hold the televised briefings. 

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT.

It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building.

‘This will necessarily require one-off capital works, including audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting,’ the response said.

An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the Government announced plans to hold the televised briefings. Pictured: Boris Johnson during a Downing Street briefing

An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the Government announced plans to hold the televised briefings. Pictured: Boris Johnson during a Downing Street briefing

An extensive overhaul within No 9 Downing Street began last year when the Government announced plans to hold the televised briefings. Pictured: Boris Johnson during a Downing Street briefing 

‘This spending is in the public interest as the new broadcasting of lobby briefings will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this Government now and in the future. 

‘Such spending on maintenance and technical facilities reflects that 9 Downing Street (the Privy Council Office) is a Grade I listed building.’ 

Labour MPs seized on the figure to criticise the Government’s recommendation of a 1 per cent pay rise for NHS workers despite the unprecedented pressure they suffered during the coronavirus pandemic.

As nurses considered taking industrial action, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: ‘It would take around 100 years for a newly qualified nurse to get paid this kind of money.

‘It sums up Boris Johnson’s warped priorities that he can find millions for vanity projects, while picking the pockets of NHS workers.’

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper added: ‘This is nothing more than an expensive vanity project and is just more evidence that this Government’s priority is spin, not substance.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT. Pictured: Matt Hancock

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT. Pictured: Matt Hancock

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the Cabinet Office issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT. Pictured: Matt Hancock

It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building. Pictured: Johnson during a Covid-19 briefing in January

It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building. Pictured: Johnson during a Covid-19 briefing in January

It said the funds had been spent to allow daily broadcasting by news organisations within the Grade-I listed building. Pictured: Johnson during a Covid-19 briefing in January

‘The Prime Minister himself said that he ‘owed his life’ to Covid doctors and nurses but now he’s happy to see front-line nurses take a real-terms pay cut, whilst he gets a flashy new TV studio – the Prime Minister should hang his head in shame.’

The disclosure came as the Prime Minister faces pressure over the refurbishment of his official flat above No 11 overseen by his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.

With costs reported to be spiralling, Downing Street refused to deny that Mr Johnson is considering setting up a charity to pay for the works to the flat.

The move raised concerns of possible conflicts of interest, offering a potential backdoor to providing a financial benefit to the Prime Minister.

The televised briefings were said to be the brainchild of Mr Johnson’s former adviser Lee Cain.

But he reportedly disagreed with the Prime Minister’s choice of former journalist Allegra Stratton as press secretary to lead the briefings as a Government spokeswoman.

Mr Cain later left Downing Street, along with former Vote Leave colleague Dominic Cummings, as a behind-the-scenes power struggle within No 10 spilled out into the open.

An advert said the salary for the press secretary role would be based on experience, but reports suggested the taxpayer-funded post would pay around £100,000 a year.

The FoI response, which was delayed by several weeks as officials decided whether the disclosure was in the public interest, included £1,848,695.12 for the ‘main works’.

Other costs included £198,023.75 on ‘long lead items’, and £33,394.63 on broadband equipment.

The launch of the televised briefings had been anticipated as early as the autumn, but in January No 10 said they were being delayed as ministers planned to hold regular press conferences during the lockdown.

Lobby correspondents, the political reporters based in Parliament, currently have daily briefings with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, or his deputy. Both are civil servants.

But under proposals set out in July, an afternoon session will be filmed at 9 Downing Street and will be led by Ms Stratton.

As a politically-appointed special adviser, rather than an impartial civil servant, she will be able to take aim at opponents as well as defend the Government’s actions.

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