Boris Johnson’s plan to set up a charity to fund Downing Street refurbishments is ‘monstrous’ and may be illegal, the former head of a standards watchdog warned yesterday.
No 10 came under increasing pressure to release details of the renovation of the Prime Minister’s official flat made by his fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Sir Alistair Graham, former head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said setting up a charity to cover the costs could break the rules.
Labour also demanded the Prime Minister come clean about the cost of the work, and how it would be paid for.
Refurbishments: Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds. No 10 came under increasing pressure to release details of the renovation of the Prime Minister’s official flat
Sir Alistair Graham (pictured above), former head of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said setting up a charity to cover the costs could break the rules
But Downing Street refused to comment on the revelation in yesterday’s Daily Mail that Mr Johnson is trying to set up a fund to finance the works. It said it would disclose the costs of the work in the Cabinet Office’s annual report, but did not say when that will be published.
The proposed charity to preserve No 10 and No 11 Downing Street is said to be based on one used by the White House to provide millions for US presidents to fund interior design, antiques and art.
But it runs the risk of creating a conflict of interest if it becomes a way for wealthy Tory donors to attempt to gain influence with No 10.
Sir Alistair said the proposal could be illegal because it directly benefits the Prime Minister. ‘Clearly it’s an iconic building as far as the country is concerned, and it requires proper maintenance to preserve it for all future PMs,’ he said.
‘But that should come out of public funds and wouldn’t involve your partner as a designer.
‘I suspect it’ll be illegal, and it’s certainly an unjustifiable use of public funds. It is not a good look at a time of austerity to be planning something like this for your personal benefit.’
The decor is said to have been inspired by interior designer Lulu Lytle, the founder and director of Soane Britain (sample design pictured)
Ms Lytle makes furniture ‘based on traditional crafts, including blacksmiths’ (sample pictured)
Mr Johnson has asked Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, a Tory peer and multi-millionaire financier with close links to the Royal Family, to run the proposed charity (sample design above)
He added: ‘It’s so bizarre and monstrous. I don’t know how you could legally set up a charity to benefit yourself and your partner.
What the rules will allow
Charities must exist solely for the public benefit, not for that of an individual, the Charity Commission says.
For an organisation to have legal status as a charity, it must have only charitable purposes – not a combination of some that are and some that are not.
The commission does not grant charitable status, but assesses whether an organisation meets the legal tests to be declared one. They cannot be added to its register if they do not solely benefit the public, or if they serve a political purpose.
This suggests that a body set up to refurbish No 10 might not gain charitable status on the basis that it would benefit the PM and his partner rather than just the public. It might also not pass the political purpose test if it was deemed a way for Tory donors to secure influence.
‘You’re supposed to make donations through the Electoral Commission. There are so many ethical and practical objections that I cannot see how this can proceed.’
Opposition MPs called for the Government to release details of the refurbishment.
Labour MP Sarah Owen wrote to the PM: ‘Do you judge it appropriate for Conservative Party donors to make direct payments to you?
‘Can you foresee any potential conflicts of interest with you personally taking direct payments from Conservative Party donors?’
She added: ‘The British people rightly expect probity, integrity and transparency when it comes to spending public money.’
Fellow Labour MP Catherine McKinnell said that if Mr Johnson were to set up a charity, it would be an ‘utter disgrace’.
Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: ‘If the Prime Minister has expensive tastes, he should cover the cost of it himself.’
Mr Johnson is said to be struggling to fund the makeover of his official flat by Miss Symonds. He privately complained that the cost was ‘totally out of control’ and that she had ordered ‘gold wall coverings’, according to sources.
In one meeting he reportedly said the bill ran to ‘tens and tens of thousands’, while in another, that it was ‘over a hundred grand’.
The maximum costs to the taxpayer for maintenance and refurbishment of the PM’s official flat are capped at £30,000 a year.
The decor is said to have been inspired by interior designer Lulu Lytle, the founder and director of Soane Britain, who makes furniture ‘based on traditional crafts, including blacksmiths’.
The maximum costs to the taxpayer for maintenance and refurbishment of the PM’s official flat are capped at £30,000 a year (sample design pictured)
An article in Tatler reveals that Miss Symonds has been overhauling the flat to remove all trace of Theresa May’s ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’ (sample)
Mr Johnson has asked Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, a Tory peer and multi-millionaire financier with close links to the Royal Family, to run the proposed charity. An application to register it with the Charity Commission is said to be under way. The commission said yesterday that it had not yet received an application.
While the charity’s purpose would be to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 on heritage grounds, insiders say the plans stemmed from the costs of the makeover.
An article in Tatler reveals that Miss Symonds has been overhauling the flat to remove all trace of Theresa May’s ‘John Lewis furniture nightmare’. According to the magazine, the main living area of the flat has been painted deep green and is often lit by candles.
A No 10 spokesman did not deny there were plans for a charity, saying: ‘As has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically. Matters concerning works on the Downing Street estate, including residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts.’