Commons officials have come up with a genius plan to save the fig trees which have so far cost the taxpayer almost £400,000.
The 12 trees will be donated to Parliament - huzzah! - but only in return for a four-year maintenance contract being handed to Bristol-based Plant Care UK they are currently rented from. The cost of this contract? Merely £18,500 a year.
The senior officials responsible for drawing up this plan - which is to be considered by the Commons Finance and Services Committee before going up to the ruling Commons Commission to be signed off (provided it is deemed acceptable) - hail it as a 60 per cent saving from the current deal. What's more, it will come into place in May, three months earlier than the existing arrangements were due to end, saving even more money!
In the proposal, leaked to the Standard, they argue replacing the trees would cost £200,000 and than any alternatives to provide adequate shade would be “more expensive, disruptive and increase our carbon footprint”.
They add it will "help a small British company to thrive by providing a reasonable return on its contract”.
It was drawn up by John Borley, Director General, Facilities, and Veronica Daly, Director of Commercial Services, after Commons Speaker John Bercow declared himself "horrified" at discovering the cost.
As chairman of the Commission, it remains to be seen what Speaker Bercow will make of the new idea. Officially, the Commons is not commenting until the proposal has been given "due consideration" by the committee
As you'd expect, campaigners are not exactly impressed and even some MPs think that spending more than a squaddie's salary on 12 trees cannot be justified.
“The maintenance cost of this opulent greenery might have come down but taxpayers will still be paying over £18,000 a year for just 12 trees, which is an outrageous amount of money,” said Robert Oxley, Campaign Manager of the Taxpayers’ Alliance.
Looks like the #savethefigs campaign has still got some work to do.
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