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.

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