Whitehall defends Paris embassy bill

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Indy Politics

17 May 2000

Britain's embassy in Paris spent almost £300,000 on entertainment in a single year, Robin Cook's most senior official acknowledged yesterday.

Sir John Kerr, the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, defended the spending when he appeared before the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.

Diplomats working on the exclusive Rue du FaubourgSt Honor near the ChampsElysées spent £293,125 on food, drink and receptions in the 1998-99 financial year - higher than embassies in Washington, Tokyo and Moscow.

Sir John Kerr said he had "no concerns" about the spending. The Paris embassy was a valuable building used to host a large number of receptions that encourage trade, help the private sector and promote culture in Britain, he said.

He also said that, unlike other countries, France had a centralised system. That meant most important political and trade decisions were made in the capital rather than in centres across the country. "Paris is the place where we do the business," Sir John said.

The spending led to criticism earlier this month from Opposition MPs, who questioned whether it was necessary.

According to Foreign Office figures, the highest-spending embassies in 1988-99 after Paris were Tokyo, which spent £221,711, New York (£196,446), Brussels (£184,071), Washington DC (£112,645), Hong Kong (£103,573), Bonn (£101,809) and Geneva (£100,470).