PM eyes charity for No.10 makeover to bypass ‘cheap’ civil service

Reports suggest latest upgrade plans cost more than three times the official £30k spending limit
Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill greets Boris Johnson as he enters No.10 Downing Street for the first time as prime minister in July 2019 PA

By Jim Dunton

03 Mar 2021

Prime minister Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to set up a new charitable trust to bankroll upgrade work at Downing Street and circumvent a £30,000 civil service spending limit dismissed as symbolic of a bureaucracy that “does everything on the cheap”.

Johnson, who took up residence at No.10 in July 2019, is understood to be keen on the creation of a funding stream similar to the trusts that cover the refurbishment of the White House in Washington DC and Chequers, the prime minister’s official country residence in Buckinghamshire.

In 2010, then prime minister David Cameron and wife Samantha funded the additional cost of modernising the prime ministerial apartment, which is actually in No.11 Downing Street, above the £30,000 limit that is set by the Cabinet Office.

However, according to the Daily Mail, Johnson wants to set up an alternative funding stream to support the latest plans. It said the cost of Johnson and partner Carrie Symonds’ plans for Downing Street – created by interior designer Lulu Lytle – were  believed to exceed £100,000.  

The Mail said fabrics made by Lytle’s firm Soane Britain started at £100 per square metre.

The paper said the fund would be presented as having a “wider heritage purpose” than maintaining the prime ministerial flat because it would cover other parts of the Downing Street complex, including state rooms.

The paper quoted an “ally” of Johnson defending the charity plan and blaming officials for reluctance to spend appropriate sums of money on the complex.

“Downing Street is as iconic as Windsor Castle but is in danger of becoming tatty because the civil service does everything on the cheap,” they said.

“A new charity with privately-raised money to preserve it in great shape for all time is great value for the taxpayer and a great idea.”

The Mail said Johnson has asked Conservative peer Lord David Brownlow to run the charity and that an application to register it with the Charity Commission was under way.

A No.10 spokesman said the Downing Street complex was a working building, as well as containing two ministerial residences.

“As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishments and maintenance are made periodically,” they said.

“Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.”

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