Ministers 'hid' pounds 86m bill for fitting out M16 HQ

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT was accused yesterday of covering up the pounds 86m cost of fitting out MI6's new headquarters in London.

In a hard-hitting report, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee described as 'unsatisfactory' the way in which the MI6 figure had been 'buried' in Foreign Office expenditure totals.

By comparison, the cost of the much-criticised refurbishment of the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development headquarters was pounds 62m.

MPs did not overtly question the scale of the MI6 spending - the Terry Farrell designed building cost pounds 150m to construct - but they pointed out that the pounds 45.5m put aside for fitting out in 1993-94 was almost as much as Britain planned to spend this year on emergency disaster and refugee relief.

Originally intended for another, less exotic, occupier the imposing block in Vauxhall, south London, has been adapted to meet the peculiar needs of MI6. Among alterations are two moats, sealed windows and new, supposedly bug-proof, air conditioning vents, stair rails and sprinkler systems.

Peter Shore MP, a committee member, said the building was a 'very heavy cost' to fall on the Foreign Office. 'It is very hard on the Foreign Office having to find sums of this kind when there is such enormous pressure on its resources from the United Nations, aid programmes, and setting up new embassies in what was Yugoslavia and eastern Europe.'

David Howell, the Tory committee chairman, said the hiding of the figures was 'undesirable - I hope the Government will set out capital expenditure totals more distinctly in future'.

MPs also expressed concern at any cuts in the BBC World Service. 'Any reduction in those broadcasts would appear to us to be deeply misguided and shortsighted and we urge the FCO to ensure that the BBC World Service is exempted from any across-the-board reduction in . . . the current public expenditure round.'

A major worry for the committee is the shift in British aid towards multilateral European Community programmes, over which the Government has little control. MPs found the switch 'deeply disturbing', especially as officials had testified that bilateral aid directly administered by Britain 'is more beneficial and better value for money'.

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