Civil Service Union Hits Out Over Senior Whitehall Staff Being Dragged Into Downing Street Flat Scandal
Exclusive: The head of the civil service union has criticised Boris Johnson for drawing Cabinet Secretary Simon Case into the fiasco around the financing of his Downing Street flat refurbishment by asking him to spend time investigating it.
Dave Penman, General Secretary of the FDA union said it was "extraordinary" that anyone in the civil service had been asked to look into how redecorating the flat was financed, and that further "precious resources" are now having to go into an inquiry as the pandemic continues.
Case was asked by the Prime Minister to look into the funding of the controversial works to the flat – rumoured to cost up to £200,000 – after it emerged they may have been originally paid for by a party donor.
There have also been reports it was paid for by the Conservative Party initially and the Electoral Commission is looking into whether the money needs to be reported and published by the Prime Minister.
Johnson and his fiance Carrie Symonds receive £30,000 a year of tax-payer money to maintain the flat, where they live with their baby son Wilfred.
No.10 say the Prime Minister has met the costs personally and Conservative Party funds are not being used for the work.
But escalating attention given to the flat's decoration in a time of national crisis has attracted criticism. "It seems simply extraordinary that, in the middle of a global pandemic, the Prime Minister tasked civil servants with exploring options to fund the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, beyond the £30,000 annual allowance already available from the public purse," Penman said.
“Given evidence heard yesterday that there is also a review being conducted into how any refurbishment was funded, should this really be the priority of some of the most senior civil servants in the country?"
Case told the Commons' Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) on Monday that the Prime Minister had asked him to spend time investigating the matter.
This comes after Case revealed Whitehall staff had been working on setting up a trust to pay for the decoration for more than a year, which had involved Alex Chisolm, current permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office.
Penman said: “The civil service can – and certainly does – do many things at once, even in a pandemic.
"But it is surely questionable judgement from the Prime Minister to prioritise this, and as a result of his decisions, cause further precious resources to be expended investigating his own actions over it.”
Exactly who initially paid for the four-bedroom flat's redecoration remains unclear. Last night it was reported that the Conservative Party itself had paid for it before the Prime Minister paid it back.
A No.10 spokesperson said: "Any costs of wider refurbishment this year beyond those provided for by the annual allowance have been met by the Prime Minister personally.
"Conservative Party funds are not being used for this."
The decor was described by Tatler magazine as being a "John Lewis furniture nightmare" from the Theresa May era. It is now said to have been completely revamped with designer Lulu Lytle's Soane Britain.
Civil servants investigated whether a trust could be set up to pay for the refurbishment, which would be similar to how the upkeep of Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence, is financed. Case said Lord Brownlow, a former Tory party vice-chair, had been asked to chair the trust and find cross-party members to sit on the new body.
PoliticsHome asked the Cabinet Office how many hours civil servants had spent on trying to draw up a trust to pay for the work, as well as what legal team was drafted in to establish the deed needed for the creation of a new trust.
They did not provide an answer.
Case said in his evidence session to the PACAC committee on Monday that "it's a genuinely complicated legal, policy and propriety issue".
His investigation is ongoing.
Plans to set up a trust to pay for the work are under the spotlight after former senior aide to the Prime Minister, Dominic Cummings, suggested they could be unethical and even illegal.