No 10 costs 'treble under Blair'

Tories obtain figures showing soaring cost of Blair's office
Tories obtain figures showing soaring cost of Blair's office

The costs of the prime minister's office have trebled under Tony Blair, new figures obtained by the Conservatives reveal.

Official figures revealed in 21 separate parliamentary questions show Downing Street cost the taxpayer £17.8 million last year, compared to just £6 million under John Major.

The Tories said the expense showed Mr Blair's presidential style of government, noting in particular the creation of a new position for a £50,000-a-year butler responsible for "improving the visitor experience" and managing the listed building at No 10.

The Cabinet Office placed an ad for the "house manager" in September, saying the position-holder would work in a "prestigious office" and be responsible for setting up "new reception and hospitality spaces for VIPs and their guests".

It says: "The house manager is a new post responsible for improving the visitor experience and for the management, refurbishment and ongoing maintenance of a prestigious Grade 1 listed building."

According to the figures, hospitality costs at Downing Street and at the prime minister's official country home at Chequers have soared from £50,000 a year under Mr Major to £160,000 under Mr Blair.

Staff costs in Downing Street alone have gone up from £3.4 million to £11.8 million in the last ten years, while the cost of the prime minister's press office has gone up from just under £600,000 in 1996-97 to £1.6 million last year.

"Whilst Gordon Brown's NHS cuts bite deep in local maternity services and A&Es, millions of pounds are being spent on bankrolling Tony Blair's vast entourage of staff and spin doctors," said shadow constitutional affairs secretary Oliver Heald.

"Not only is such proliferate expenditure is a questionable use of taxpayers' money, but such a presidential-style office undermines collective cabinet government and our parliamentary democracy.

"The corrosive feud between Blair and Brown is being fuelled by their rival power bases in Downing Street and the Treasury, with the public forced to pick up the tab."

No 10 has previously defended the increase in PR costs as a natural consequence of a shift towards 24-hour news, and last night a spokesman also insisted that the new post of "house manager" was a job that had existed for more than a decade.

"The job holder would be responsible for the building and maintenance of house business. They would not provide a service for the prime minister," he said.


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