Tuesday 30 March 2021

Refurbishing on the cheap


Downing Street’s shiny new media briefing room made its first operational appearance yesterday, and it left me wondering how on earth they could have spent £2.6 million on doing it up. Not “how could they?” in the sense of moral and fiscal outrage, but “how could they?” in practical, down to earth reality. The average price of a home in Wales is now a little over £200,000, so that sum of money expended on one room could have purchased 12 whole houses – what do you have to do to spend that on refurbishing a single room?

There are certainly some nice new chairs for absent journalists not to sit on. I don’t know how many – but let’s say there were 200 of them. £100 each would be expensive, but let’s imagine they purchased them from a Tory donor at an inflated price of £500 each – that’s the first £100,000 gone. Those podiums look expensive – perhaps they are hand-carved solid oak, at a very pricy £20,000 each: that brings us to a running total of £160,000. That nice blue screen can surely not have cost more than £100,000, and if we allow £5,000 each for two flags of the very best quality, that brings us up to £270,000. I couldn’t see the carpet, but it’s a large room, so perhaps another £100,000? And then there’s the IT and audio-visual equipment. They clearly didn’t go overboard on that, given that Chris Whitty still had to ask someone else to change the slides for him and remote clickers are no more than about £20 each, but let’s allow another generous £200,000 for the technical gubbins. Throw in an expensive repaint at £20,000, and that gives us a running total of £590,000. They probably needed a design consultant. Given the government’s willingness to overpay for dubious advice, let’s assume that they employed one at £5,000 per day for four weeks to design and oversee the installation. That adds another £100,000 to the cost. There were no obvious signs of gold plating à la Trump, or Middle Eastern potentate style marble, so what happened to the remaining almost £2 million? And why does nobody seem even to be asking?

Perhaps they outsourced the whole job to one of their friends who took a 300% profit margin; perhaps there were some dubious ‘commissions’ paid. Who knows, but in the world inhabited by the majority of us, spending £2.6 million on one room would not only be difficult to justify, but it would also be almost impossible to achieve. I suppose we should count ourselves lucky that the government believes that the public finances are strapped at present, and that they had to operate on such a tight budget.

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