Boris Johnson 'could be forced to open No 10 to public' if he uses charity to pay for flat refurbishment

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Harry Yorke
·3 min read
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Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson could be forced to open up Number 10 to the public if he presses ahead with proposals to fund the renovation of his official flat through charitable donations, a leading expert has claimed.

Sir Stephen Bubb, the acting director of the Oxford Institute of Charity, said increasing accessibility to the building may be the only way to ensure the proposed charity met the requirements to provide a “public benefit.”

Speaking to The Telegraph on Tuesday, Sir Stephen, who also runs the Charity Futures think tank, suggested the move would mirror the transparency displayed by Jackie Kennedy, the former First Lady of the United States.

In 1962, Mrs Kennedy, the wife of John F Kennedy, famously opened up the White House to television cameras following a $2 million refurbishment.

“There has to be a public benefit, that’s absolutely key,” Sir Stephen said. “The only way in which a charity could be registered is if all of Number 10 - including the private quarters - were made available for the public to view. We look forward to the Grand Designs programme.”

It came as the Prime Minister’s spokesman on Tuesday refused to deny reports that Mr Johnson is considering plans to set up a charity to fund the preservation of Number 10 and Number 11 on heritage grounds.

It would resemble the presidential charity which is used to fund interior design, antiques and art in the White House, and reportedly would be headed by Conservative peer Lord Brownlow, a financier with close links to the Royal Family.

Kennedys
Kennedys

However, according to the Daily Mail, insiders claim its real intention is to cover the mounting costs of the refurbishment of the Number 11 flat - which Mr Johnson opted for over the smaller Number 10 flat - which has been redecorated by Carrie Symonds, his fiancée.

While prime ministers are entitled to a £30,000 taxpayer-funded annual allowance for makeovers, Mr Johnson is said to have claimed privately that the cost was “over a hundred grand.”

The revelations have prompted concerns that the charity could represent a conflict of interest, as it would be seen as a vehicle for wealthy Conservative donors to provide a personal benefit to the prime minister.

In response, Labour wrote to Mr Johnson asking him to justify the renovations, as well as confirming the total costs and whether Conservative donors had been approached.

Critics also pointed out that David Cameron, who also made extensive renovations to the flat, had paid for kitchen fixtures and fittings after using up the allowance.

Echoing their concerns, Sir Stephen told this newspaper that the charity was likely to fall foul of the Charity Commission’s public benefit requirement.

He added: “At a time when the collapse in funding for charities is catastrophic, the idea that you would set up another charity simply to refurbish the private rooms of the Prime Minister is fairly outrageous.”

The regulator said it was unaware of any application and declined to comment on whether the proposal would meet its tests.

A spokesman said: “The Commission has not, at this point, received an application from any organisation with aims to preserve or maintain Downing Street. We scrutinise all applications carefully against a clear legal framework, set by Parliament.”

Sir Stephen was joined by Sir Alistair Graham, the a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, who dismissed the idea as “monstrous”, telling The Times: “If you’re making a donation, you’re making it to a political party for the purposes of ensuring that party stays in power, you don’t do it for the personal benefit of the leader of the party.”

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Matters concerning any work on Downing Street, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts. That is where we set out the details of what has happened.

"Downing Street is a working building, as has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically."