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Downing Street’s media makeover racks up £2.6m bill

Downing Street has spent more than £2.6 million on renovations in order to hold White House-style press briefings, it emerged on Friday.

The cost of the refurbishments for the televised press conferences in Number 9 Downing Street was revealed through freedom of information laws, prompting fresh questions over the use of taxpayers’ money.

On Friday night, the Daily Mail claimed that the refurbishment had been paid for by Conservative Party funds with the bill set to be in the region of £200,000.

But, in an attempt to cover up the cost donors agreed to pay an equivalent sum.

However, Downing Street said that all donations are “transparently declared” and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law.

They added that details of the makeover would be spelled out in Cabinet Office accounts later this year.

The new format for the daily Westminster briefings was announced last year, followed by the appointment of former journalist Allegra Stratton as the Prime Minister’s new press secretary, who will front them.

However, due to Covid-19 restrictions, they have been delayed indefinitely, with Number 10 yet so say when they will begin.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, the Cabinet Office on Friday issued a breakdown of the costs totalling £2,607,000, largely excluding VAT.

The disclosure was seized upon by Labour on Friday, which claimed that Boris Johnson was spending money on “vanity projects” at the same time as “picking the pockets” of NHS workers, who have been offered a 1 per cent pay rise.

Defending the expenditure, a Government spokesman said: “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.

File: A general view of the lateral flow testing centre on February 22, 2021 in Portsmouth, England. NHS Test and Trace have provided Portsmouth City Council with the lateral flow tests, coming as part of a new pilot to enable local public health leaders to start testing eligible critical workers not covered by other rapid community testing programmes. The community testing initiative, which is in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, launched at the Guildhall in Portsmouth to help drive down transmission rates. The site offers asymptomatic testing for those critical workers who cannot work from home and those who, during the course of their work, have regular contact with other people. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)© Getty File: A general view of the lateral flow testing centre on February 22, 2021 in Portsmouth, England. NHS Test and Trace have provided Portsmouth City Council with the lateral flow tests, coming as part of a new pilot to enable local public health leaders to start testing eligible critical workers not covered by other rapid community testing programmes. The community testing initiative, which is in partnership with the Department of Health and Social Care, launched at the Guildhall in Portsmouth to help drive down transmission rates. The site offers asymptomatic testing for those critical workers who cannot work from home and those who, during the course of their work, have regular contact with other people. (Photo by Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

“Such spending on maintenance and technical facilities reflects that 9 Downing Street (the Privy Council Office) is a Grade 1 listed building.”

It came amid mounting questions over Mr Johnson’s refurbishment of his official Downing Street flat, which is being overseen by his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

It has been alleged that the Prime Minister has discussed the possibility of setting up a charity which would raise funds to help preserve Number 10 and Number 11 as buildings of national significance.

However, it has been claimed that the discussions stemmed from Mr Johnson’s concerns over the spiralling costs of the makeover of his private living quarters.

Separately, the Daily Mail reported on Friday that Mr Johnson had spent an estimated  £12,500 in the past year on gourmet food deliveries from a business run by a Conservative donor’s wife.

Approximately 30 hampers of organic food from Daylesford have been delivered to Downing Street’s back entrance on Tuesdays, along with about 100 prepared meals from the company’s farm shop.

Daylesford was set up by Carole Bamford, the wife of Lord Bamford, the chairman of JCB, who has donated millions of pounds to the Conservatives.

Asked about the reports, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The cost of food for personal consumption are entirely met personally by the Prime Minister.”

He clarified that the personal consumption includes food eaten by the Prime Minister and his family.

Source: Telegraph.co.uk

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