Government flats have been in the news a fair bit recently. Much ink was spilled over the £88,000 Boris and Carrie shelled out to interior designer Lulu Lytle to do up the Prime Minister's flat at the end of last year. But now it seems the Johnsons got off lightly, judging by the current exorbitant rate going for Downing Street apartments.
A Freedom of Information request by Steerpike has shed light on a previously little-known arrangement between government departments over the Chancellor's official flat, which is based in No. 10, adjacent to the Prime Minister's larger abode next door in No. 11. This recent practice of residing in the flats traditionally used by their counterparts dates from the New Labour era, when Tony Blair's family grabbed the bigger Chancellor's flat from the then unmarried Gordon Brown.
Now it transpires that, under a Whitehall quirk, Rishi Sunak's Treasury pays a contribution to Michael Gove's Cabinet Office for the space used by HM Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer within the Downing Street estate, including maintenance of the No. 11 state rooms and offices, and the No.10 flat.
The cost of this arrangement? A cool £771,484 for the 2020/21 year, of which £766,426 was listed as 'rental charges' and a further £5,058 was denoted as 'maintenance and fixture and furnishings.' Sunak, a former Goldman Sachs banker, has always been a staunch capitalist but a six figure price for a third floor flat must invite questions of rent controls.
Fortunately, the rental charges come at no direct cost to the taxpayer, as this is an internal recharge arranged between the two departments. The Chancellor of course has had an office in Downing Street since 1828 with the £776,00 figure recorded as 'a notional estimated figure for the use of the government building by another government body'.
The 'rent' in question is regarded as entirely notional because, as, one Treasury official told Steerpike: 'it would not be realistic to rent out 11 Downing Street to a commercial organisation as an alternative to use by HM Treasury.' Mr S understands that similar arrangements are in place at other departments fighting over floor space – a whole new meaning of the phrase 'Whitehall turf wars.'
Still, given the Treasury tendency to flog off prime London sites, let's hope Rishi's freehold doesn't one day become a leasehold.