Photos of the room – intended for ministers to give White House-style addresses to the media – were unveiled earlier this week, and quickly came under fire online, not just because of the amount of money spent on it during a pandemic, but also how simple the expensive refurbishment was.
During Thursday night’s Question Time, Have I Got News For You star and Private Eye journalist Ian Hislop shared his thoughts on the matter, saying it was a visual representation of “an entire year of Covid incompetence”.
“It’s a ridiculous amount of money and it shows this government’s skills with procurement once again,” he said. “£2.6 million for a couple of microphones – brilliant! No wonder test and trace cost £37 billion.
“It’s absolutely fatuous, and the idea that the prime minister can’t even have a room to make speeches to talk about things unless it’s subsidised by some sort of Russian company with links to RT… it just beggars belief that he can’t buy a sofa for less than £250,000 from a designer.”
Hislop added: “Literally, it’s a metaphor for an entire year of Covid incompetence.
“The sheer tin ear of saying, in a week when the nurses are getting a 1% [pay rise], I think I need a big room with some microphones in it, and then I can go and announce to people… what? I don’t know! We’ve had a whole year of briefings, it’s fine!”
Earlier this week, a source told HuffPost UK that Megahertz – a Russian-owned company – played a key role in the refurbishment, including installing computers, cameras, microphones and a control desk.
Megahertz was bought in 2013 by the UK arm of Okno-TV – a Moscow-based firm that has carried out technical work for state-controlled broadcasters Russia Today, Channel One, and Public Television of Russia.
Former standards watchdog chief Sir Alistair Graham later said Downing Street had “serious questions” to answer about Megahertz’s involvement in the creation of the new briefing room.
Graham told LBC: “I couldn’t quite believe it, really, because the two refurbishments we’ve had in Downing Street recently have been very bizarre.
“To use a Russian [owned] company in a highly sensitive security area seems incredible, really.
“I don’t think the government [has] explained yet whether this contract went out for competitive tender and it seems to be one of a whole series of very expensive projects that haven’t gone out to competitive tender.
“So I think there are some serious questions to be answered.”