18 August 2011 12:06 PM

The £50k bill for ministerial office refits

Today the Standard reveals that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond's ministerial sofas have been reupholstered at a cost of almost £5,000.

The spending has angered transport unions and passenger groups, coming so soon after commuters were told to brace themselves for record fares hikes. The department insists the re-covering the "high quality" sofas was better value for money than replacing them.

But the spending is part of a wider £50k bill for redecorating or refurbishing ministerial offices run up by the Coalition - prompting accusations of "hypocrisy" at a time of supposed austerity.

Among some of the gems uncovered by our FOI requests is the Department for International Development's £3,057.56 bill for new furnishings - "many of which were purchased from charity shops". Andrew Mitchell, Alan Duncan and Stephen O'Brien perched on second-hand sofas makes a great image.

The Foreign Office spent a massive £34,426.64 creating offices for two Lords ministers - Lord Howell and Lord Green. That included £1,995 for "antique furniture maintenance" in Lord Green's office. The FOI response said costs were high because the department's HQ is a listed building which sometimes needs "specialist heritage paints, fabrics and the use of specialist fabrics".

Intrigued, I asked more about the antiques. This is what came back: "The accommodation used for Lord Green was converted from general office space and additional furniture was required to set up the office. To do this, we used antiques that are held for this purpose, rather than buy new furniture. The items, a desk, a drum table, eight leather chairs, two leather armchairs, required restoration, minor damage repair and polishing. These items mirror the style of the FCO building and are suitable for a Ministerial office where meetings with foreign dignitaries and other important contacts are held. There were no “heritage” fabrics used on this furniture, but a specialist antique craftsman was required to restore the items."

Creating an office suite for Baroness Warsi in the Cabinet Office cost £2,172, while redecorating Home Secretary Theresa May's cost £2,000.

Ministers in nine departments decided to make do with the offices as they are: Treasury, Defence, Work and Pensions, Justice, Communities and Local Government, Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Culture Media and Sport and Business, Innovation and Skills.

Craig Woodhouse
Follow me on Twitter @craigawoodhouse


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