Ministry's pounds 1m move to a smart address

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Indy Politics
Ministers and civil servants are busy preening their Whitehall offices for the arrival of the European leaders for Britain's turn at the Presidency of the European Union.

The entire ministerial team from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is moving out of its Whitehall headquarters to more salubrious premises at Nobel House, Smith Square, at a total cost of about pounds 947,000.

Jack Cunningham, the minister of agriculture, insisted that the move would have been necessary to enable the Whitehall Place offices to be refurbished, but an internal memorandum by the permanent secretary at Maff, RJ Packer, makes it clear that the move is carried out in time for Britain to take over the six-month Presidency in January.

Mr Packer said ministers believe their present offices "need a revamp and is not in their view of an appropriate standard for hosting the forthcoming UK Presidency". The Nobel House offices include "some rooms ... of real architectural distinction", Mr Packer added.

The moving costs for ministers and officials are estimated at pounds 120,000, and it will cost pounds 240,000 to provide conference facilities. The Departments chief scientist's group is being moved out of Nobel House at a cost of pounds 220,000. The Department is also paying an "occupancy charge" of pounds 367,000 this year.

David Curry, a former Tory minister, said: "When the Whitehall building was last refurbished in 1989, we moved into the basement. I remember conducting meetings surrounded by the heating pipes. But they clearly want something more fancy for the presidency. It is a bit tactless to be doing this when farmers are still feeling very sore."