Plan for White House-style press conferences axed – but not before expensive refurb
Despite the cancellation of plans for White House-style press conferences, Downing Street has insisted that its souped-up £2.6m briefing facility will still be a “very useful room”.
It was announced last summer that Downing Street was planning to introduce televised media conferences, to be led by prime minister Boris Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton. These briefings were intended to increase transparency by replacing the behind-closed-doors sessions that have traditionally allowed journalists to quiz a prime ministerial spokesperson each day.
In preparation for the new daily broadcasts, a room at 9 Downing Street was refurbished – at a cost of a £2.6m – and kitted out with a range of high-tech equipment.
But, having already been delayed by months, it was confirmed by government this week that the briefings will no longer take place.
In light of which, the money spent on the refit has faced criticism.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Instead of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a pointless vanity project, the prime minister should have used the money to give our NHS heroes a pay rise.”
Government has defended the outlay though, with a Downing Street spokesperson insisting it would still be a “very useful room”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, digital, culture, media and sport secretary Oliver Dowden said: “This was just about building a modern press facility. It won’t just be used by this government, it will be used by future governments, it’s very similar to what many governments around the world have. So, it’s not wasted money in that sense, it is just a normal press facility for government.”
Speaking last month – when the plan was still to use the room for the US-style briefings – Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez pointed to the need for new technology as one of the most significant costs of the project.
“The government is establishing facilities within 9 Downing Street which will be used for daily broadcasting by a number of news organisations,” she said. “This will necessarily require one-off capital works, including audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting. This spending is in the public interest as the new broadcasting of lobby briefings will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this government now and in the future.”