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Saturday, May 28, 2011

What spending cuts? PM splashes out £700k of YOUR money on Downing Street

By Gerri Peev

Sofa so good: First Lady Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron at the newly renovated No11 flat, which came with a £30,000 price tag

David Cameron has splashed out nearly £700,000 of taxpayers’ cash to revamp Downing Street this year, a sum that even members of his own party will find hard to stomach given the cuts the government is asking the British public to endure.

The Prime Minister’s expenditure on his historic residence includes £30,000 for upgrading the larger flat above Number 11 where he and wife Samantha and their children live.

The couple spent even more of their own money installing a designer kitchen and recreating the sleek décor of their much-missed family home, on the border of trendy Notting Hill in London.

But taxpayers helped subsidise some of the work on the four bedroom apartment included rewiring, plumbing and energy efficiency improvements.

A spokesman said that the couple paid for the kitchen and all furniture and fittings themselves.

The other £653,192.34 was spent on work to the Grade One listed offices and reception rooms inside the Georgian house.

The Cameron’s revamp of their own flat was unveiled this week when Samantha Cameron was pictured with Michelle Obama sitting on a mustard, designer sofa in the new Number 10 kitchen.

The expenditure is controversial, as it comes at a time of austerity cuts across government.

Mr Cameron has ordered all departments to rein in their expenditure and has even resorted to buying his own Christmas tree to cut costs.

Even council house tenants have been encouraged by the government to pitch in and carry out their own repairs, to save money on costly contractors.

But it seems that the family has not refused the annual grant available to prime minister’s to do up their grace-and-favour apartment.

Since the election, taxpayers have had to fund a refurbishment of Number 10 totalling at least £683,102.34.

The expenditure is revealed in Cabinet Office lists which only record any spending above £25,000.

Even more may have been spent on individual works, however, as only items costing more than £25,000 are listed.

Michael Dugher, a Labour MP who used to work inside Number 10, said he was astonished at the costs.

He said: ‘It is not as though the place was falling down, I am not sure what the money is being spent on.

‘At the same time as they are asking ordinary people to tighten their belts, the Camerons are splashing taxpayers’ cash on doing up their own flat. Meanwhile people in council houses are seeing their repairs cut.’

Tom Watson, the Labour MP for West Bromwich East, who has been a prominent voice in the fight for greater government transparency, added: 'When David Cameron entered Downing Street last year he heralded the new age of transparency. Yet when we ask simple questions about what walls he has demolished in a grade one listed building and how much the taxpayer has paid to do this, he refuses to answer.

'Good Prime Ministers lead by example. I'm afraid he has failed his own transparency test.'

However Number 10 sources hit back, pointing out that the programme of work maintenance on Downing Street had been commissioned by the Labour government.

Labour ministers had complained that Downing Street was dilapidated and that no major works had been carried out since the 1960s.

A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘This spend relates to the Downing Street Building Modernisation Programme launched in 2006, under the last Government, to address structural repairs and the renewal of failing infrastructure having gone without refurbishment for some 50 years.

Listed: The Downing Street buildings - require consultation from English Heritage before being renovated - in this picture Barack Obama and the First Lady are waving from the steps of No10

'This programme of work is still ongoing. Downing Street is a Grade I listed building. As such it requires a certain level of maintenance. The Prime Minister has paid for changes to the flat out of his own pocket, beyond the annual maintenance budget threshold.’

One source said: ‘The PM did not turn up on day one and order an expensive renovation. The programme of works was already in place.’

In 2007/08, when Tony Blair was in residence, work at Number 10 cost £1.3million.

Other prime ministers have also taken advantage of the annual maintenance budget for their personal accommodation, which rose from £25,000 to £30,000 this year.

Any refurbishment is also particularly costly because it has to involve the advice of English Heritage for all modifications.

The Camerons themselves spent tens of thousands of pounds on their apartment. The kitchen from design company Roundhouse cost at least £25,000 while the sofaworkshop ‘Fancy Nancy’ sofa was more than £1,400.

The minimalist interior acts as a showcase for other furniture from the Prime Minister’s mother-in-law’s store, Okadirect.com.

Downing Street has a second, catering kitchen downstairs for bigger state occasions.



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