UK govt slammed over pricey renovations for media briefings

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is facing criticism for spending 2.6 million pounds ($3.6 million) to renovate part of a government building for televised media briefings that have yet to take place.

The cost of the work at 9 Downing St., two doors from the prime minister’s residence, was reported Friday by the Press Association news agency after it filed a freedom of information request.

The government said the expenses included “audio-visual equipment, internet infrastructure, electrical works and lighting.”

It said the spending was in the public interest because the broadcasts “will increase public accountability and transparency about the work of this government now and in the future.”

The opposition Labour Party accused the government of spending money on “vanity projects” when health care workers, who have endured a year of pandemic, have been told they will get a 1% pay raise.

Johnson’s Conservative government announced plans in July to shake up its political communications by holding White House-style televised briefings. For years political journalists have been briefed on the record, but off camera, by government spokespeople.

Johnson said the format would allow the government to have more “direct engagement” with the public.

Former journalist Allegra Stratton was hired as the prime minister’s press secretary to deliver the briefings, but their start date has been repeatedly delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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