The new Downing Street press briefing room will be used for the first time this week, beginning with the Covid-19 press conference this evening.
The briefing room was built inside number 9 Downing Street at a cost of £2.6m, and will eventually be used to televise daily press briefings which currently take place behind closed doors.
The refurbishment was carried out with the intention of hosting White House-style daily televised press briefings from the suite.
The government has attracted significant criticism over the costs involved in the refurbishment, as well as the delays. A freedom of information request to the Cabinet Office revealed the full cost of the works as £2,607,767.67.
This figure includes £1,848,695.12 for the “main works”, £198,023.75 on “long lead items”, and £33,394.63 on broadband equipment.
These figures initially came to light at the same time as a dispute was raging in Westminster over nurses’ pay.
Speaking at the time, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “It would take around 100 years for a newly qualified nurse to get paid this kind of money.
“It sums up Boris Johnson’s warped priorities that he can find millions for vanity projects, while picking the pockets of NHS workers.”
What will the new briefings be about?
Lobby journalists, or political reporters in Westminster, currently have a daily briefing with the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson or deputy - both of whom should remain politically neutral as civil servants.
These briefings are not currently televised, but Downing Street put in place plans last year to begin broadcasting them, so as to provide more opportunity for scrutiny and public health messaging during the pandemic.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton was hired at £100,000 per year to lead the new televised briefings, although it is not clear when these will start.
As a political appointee rather than civil servant, Ms Stratton will be free to attack opponents of the PM or criticise, rather than having to remain relatively impartial.
The briefings were originally scheduled to begin last year, and then in January, but plans were shelved on the day the first briefing was due to take place.
Speaking at the time, Ms Stratton said: “We are looking closely at the best communication for the period we now find ourselves in. We have a new strain of coronavirus that’s 50 per cent more infectious.
“The Prime Minister’s taken the steps he’s taken in the last few days, and we are considering the best way to support this and to get across public health messaging.”
Who is Allegra Stratton?
Ms Stratton was hired after a lengthy recruitment process which sought to find the best candidate to lead the briefings to journalists.
An ex-journalist herself, Ms Stratton was formerly national editor for ITV News, but more recently was employed as Communications Director for Chancellor Rishi Sunak, where it is reported she came up with the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ slogan.
Stratton has close personal ties with Sunak, who was best man at her wedding to political editor of the Spectator magazine, James Forsyth.