PM's £2.6m studio branded 'laughable waste of money' as briefings scrapped

21 April 2021, 18:25

By Fiona Jones

Lionel Barber condemns Boris Johnson for spending £2.6 million of taxpayers' money on a briefing room - then choosing to scrap briefings.

Downing Street has ditched plans for White House-style press conferences despite spending more than £2.6 million on a brand new studio.

A media room, where Boris Johnson's press secretary Allegra Stratton was due to field questions from journalists, was built in No 9 Downing Street and kitted out with cameras and rows of chairs.

Last month it was revealed that it had cost £2.6 million to install, with the hi-tech refurbishment branded a "vanity project" by Labour.

Lionel Barber, former Financial Times editor and host of exclusive LBC podcast What Next? told Eddie Mair, "It was a laughable proposition from day one.

"The idea that the UK wants to turn the Prime Minister's office into some kind of White House Presidency with daily briefings, it's a nonsense."

Boris Johnson has scrapped plans for White House-style press conferences
Boris Johnson has scrapped plans for White House-style press conferences. Picture: PA

He continued, "We don't have that, we need for the Prime Minister to be appearing before Parliament and MPs questioning him. It's a theatre in Washington, it got even worse under Trump. When I heard this I thought it was a daft idea."

"So I think it's a waste of money, there are other places where you could have modern broadcasting and decent equipment and not surprisingly, finally, they've come round in Downing Street to ditching it. Allegra Stratton who was set up to be the Kellyanne Conway of London has now moved to a different job.

"I just think they've got a real issue with communication in Government."

Responding to the plans being scrapped, Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner said: "Boris Johnson is clearly running scared of scrutiny and questions about Tory sleaze and dodgy lobbying.

"Instead of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on a pointless vanity project the Prime Minister should have used the money to give our NHS heroes a pay rise."

A freedom of information (FoI) request revealed that the overhaul of No 9 had cost £2,607,767.67, largely excluding VAT. Costs detailed in the FoI response included £1,848,695.12 for the "main works", £198,023.75 on "long lead items", and £33,394.63 on broadband equipment.

To hear more from Lionel Barber, you can listen to his podcast here or on Global Player.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

More Eddie Mair

Mark Drakeford: New mask rules in Welsh schools 'imminent'

Mark Drakeford: Mask mandates in Welsh schools 'imminent'

Eddie Mair caller takes aim at Boris Johnson

'The man is a clown': Eddie Mair caller takes aim at Boris Johnson

Social care system: 'It needs more funds. It needs radical reform'

Social care system: 'It needs more funds. It needs radical reform'

Bradford Council Leader takes aim at Govt rail plan

'This has got me so angry today': Bradford Council leader takes aim at Govt rail plan

Azeem Rafiq's racism revelations mark 'sad day for cricket'

Azeem Rafiq's racism revelations mark 'sad day for cricket'

'People are beginning to wonder whether Boris Johnson sometimes likes to disappear'

'People are beginning to wonder whether Boris Johnson sometimes likes to disappear'

Ex-MP takes aim at 'greedy' MPs who are 'out for all they can get'

Ex-MP takes aim at 'greedy' MPs who are 'just out for all they can get'

'I can't imagine why I would encourage my kids to get involved in politics'

'I can't imagine why I would encourage my kids to get involved in politics'

Tory MP: 'Optics aren't great' on move to save Owen Paterson from suspension

Tory MP: 'Optics aren't great' on move to save Owen Paterson from suspension

Eddie Mair grills Tory MP on self-admitted 'crazy' Universal Credit taper rate

Eddie Mair grills Tory MP on self-admitted 'crazy' pre-budget Universal Credit taper rate

GP: 'We need multiple things to stop Covid'

GP: 'We need multiple things to stop Covid'

Sir David Amess' surgery was in church so 'elderly' and 'disabled' constituents could attend

Sir David Amess 'moved surgery to church so more constituents could attend'

'Brexit represents 'self-sabotage', caller argues

'Brexit represents 'self-sabotage', caller argues

Ex-EU boss launches scathing attack on Lord Frost's Brexit speech

Ex-EU boss launches brutal attack on Lord Frost's Brexit speech

Caller 'haunted' by son's Covid death fumes at report findings

Mother 'haunted' by son's Covid death fumes at report findings

'I can't take my daughter to school': Mother shares toll of fuel fiasco on her family

'I can't take my daughter to school': Mother shares toll of fuel fiasco on her family