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£130 million refurbishment bill for Jack Straw's new offices

Sunday 14 December 2008

The Ministry of Justice has been accused of wasting a \"colossal\" amount of taxpayers\' money after spending more than £130 million refurbishing an old office block for its new headquarters.

Formerly the Home Office buiidling, the Queen Anne\'s Gate tower was converted to house the new Ministry of Justice. Oposition politicians and union leaders have expressed astonishment at the cost of the project to create a new home for Justice Secretary Jack Straw and his staff.

The remodelling of the concrete tower block, next to St James\' Park in London, cost £915 a square foot to complete – around 18 times more than a standard refurbishment would cost in the private sector.

In addition to the refurbishment costs, £2,745,000 was lavished on new furniture and fittings for the offices and £290,000 was spent on artwork.

Nick Herbert, the shadow justice secretary, said: \"A Government that prioritised public safety might have used this money to prevent the early release of prisoners. Instead they\'ve spent a staggering sum on a new palace for the Lord Chancellor.

\"When ministers are demanding cuts in prison and courts budgets, such lavish spending on their own offices will intensify questions about the value of a new department which is clearly failing to live up to its own name.\"

From the outside, the Ministry of Justice offices look no different from when the Home Office moved out of the same building in 2005.

But before the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw took residence three months ago, extensive modifications were made inside the structure.

The former open air car park in a central courtyard was given a high-level glass roof to form an atrium with meeting spaces and a canteen. The headquarters also boast an outdoor picnic area with contemporary hardwood furniture.

Harry Fletcher assistant general secretary of the probation union NAPO, condemned the expense.

\"This is a colossal waste of taxpayers\' money. This is an extraordinary sense of priorities,\" he said.

\"At the same time as they are spending a huge amount of money on refurbishing this building, they are about to cut the probation budget by £120m and shed 3,000 prison jobs, all of which will lead to more reoffending and more victims.

\"Lavish refurbishment seems more important to ministers than reducing crime.\"

The Home Office was controversially split after the then Home Secretary John Reid declared it \'unfit for purpose\' due to a series of scandals.

Responsibilities for prisons, probation and other criminal justice issues, was hived-off to the new Ministry of Justice, which was previously known as the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

In October this year leaked documents revealed secret plans to cut 10,000 jobs over the next three years at the Ministry of Justice and its agencies.

Official documents indicated that 3,000 jobs would go from the Prison Service, more than 3,100 in the courts and more than 1,300 in probation.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the \"rationalisation\" of its estate would bring \"substantial future savings\".

\"The new headquarters brings together staff from several sites across London and enables the organisation to work much more efficiently,\" he said.

\"Where possible office furniture has been reused but where necessary furniture has been replaced for logistical reasons.\"

Integrated art had been included in the project as recommended by guidelines on better public buildings, he added.

The Ministry of Justice\'s offices were designed by architect Sir Basil Spence and opened in 1976. When occupied by the Home Office it was known as 50 Queen Anne\'s Gate. It has now been renamed 102 Petty France on reopening.

The Home Office\'s new building in nearby Marsham Street, which houses 3,000 staff including some Ministry of Justice workers, cost £311 million to build from scratch.

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