Boris Johnson paid for Downing Street flat refurbishment himself, government says

Refit by fashionable designer rumoured to have run into six figures

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 23 April 2021 16:49 BST
Today's daily politics briefing

Boris Johnson personally covered the cost - potentially running into tens of thousands of pounds - of refurbishment to his flat above 11 Downing Street, the government has announced.

And the Cabinet Office confirmed that the government is considering setting up a trust to fund future works on the official residency of the prime minister, to reduce reliance on taxpayers’ money or the PM’s own purse.

The refit of the flat, occupied by the prime minister, fiancee Carrie Symonds and their son Wilf, has sparked controversy after leaked emails appeared to show Conservative party donors had paid for some of the work.

An email from wealthy supporter Lord Brownlow suggested that he had given £58,000 to cover payments made by the party to the soon-to-be-formed “Downing Street Trust”.

Plans for the trust were said to have been formed last year after the PM beamed concerned about cost of the makeover by upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle, which was reported to have reached six figures.

Prime ministers receive an annual allowance of £30,000 to maintain and furnish their residency at No 11, the official home of the head of government since 1997. Spending beyond that level is not covered from the public purse.

In a statement to parliament, Cabinet Office minister Lord True confirmed that works took place during the 2020/21 financial year on painting, sanding and floorboards in the flat.

He did not give a figure for the spending, but said: “Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the prime minister personally.”

Lord True said that discussions have begun on the establishment of a trust similar to those which fund the upkeep of the PM’s country house Chequers, and the grace-and-favour mansion Dorneywood, which has previously been used by chancellors of the exchequer.

“The government has been considering the merits of whether works on parts or all of the Downing Street estate could be funded by a trust,” said the Tory peer.

“This could mirror long-standing arrangements in place for Chequers (a private trust) or for Dorneywood (a charitable trust), reducing the need for subsidy from the public purse.

“Such matters are legally complex and policy development is ongoing. The government engaged with the leader of the opposition’s office on the proposals in July.”

Figures released by Lord True showed that sums running into tens of thousands of pounds have been spent on the flat almost every year since 1997, with the total regularly topping £30,000.

The previous highest annual spend was in 1998/99 when Tony Blair splashed out £48,336 - the equivalent of £73,040 at today’s prices.

Lord True said that the spending contributed to “assets owned and held by the nation for use by ministers, including for example for hosting official guests”.

He added: “The government is legally required to maintain the Downing Street buildings to the high standards appropriate to its Grade 1 and 2 listed status in consultation with Historic England. 

“The listed status, as well as security and other relevant factors, significantly add to the cost of maintenance and repairs, compared to normal properties.”

No works took place during the financial year 2019/20, partly due to the general election and the coronavirus pandemic, he said.

Despite earning £150,000 as PM, Mr Johnson is reported to have sought financial help from the party after complaining privately the cost of the refit of his official flat was “out of control”.

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