Treasury savages ‘appalling and incredibly expensive’ plans for a £350m Essex HQ to house new body replacing Public Health England
- The National Institute for Health Protection has replaced Public Health England
- Matt Hancock has tabled plans to relocate the NIHP’s headquarters to Essex
- Treasury insiders have criticised the plans, calling them ‘appalling and incredibly expensive’
The Treasury has ripped apart an ‘appalling and incredibly expensive’ plan for a £350million Essex headquarters to house a new body that will replace Public Health England.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced last week that new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) will replace PHE and that it has already begun work as its replacement body.
The NIHP has a ‘single and relentless mission: protecting people from external threats to this country’s health like biological weapons, pandemics and infectious diseases of all kinds,’ Mr Hancock said.
However, the £350million plans for a headquarters in Essex are being questioned, with sources from within the Treasury calling them ‘appalling and incredibly expensive’.
Britain’s Secretary of State of Health Matt Hancock arrives in Downing Street, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in May
Chain of command: Baroness Harding will report directly to the health secretary after her appointment as interim chief of the new National Institute for Health Protection (NIHP) today
The move, which would include the creation of state-of-the-art public health laboratories, is said to be personally favoured by the health secretary.
Insider sources have told the Telegraph the Treasury’s Chief Secretary, Steve Barclay, is going to be making substantive changes to proposals based on his personal reservations about the move.
The Department of Health had planned to move PHE’s headquarters to Harlow by 2025, a suggestion that was fiercely opposed over financial concerns.
Treasury sources have suggested plans for the Essex headquarters in their current form are unjustifiable to taxpayers.
After the announcement of axing the PHE for the new NIHP, some felt the plan to relocate to Essex would be scrapped but the NIHP simply plans to replace its predecessor as the site’s occupant.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay is pictured during a visit to Edinburgh in July this year
Mr Barclay is in the process of reviewing the business case for the project while liaising with the Department of Health.
‘The Treasury don’t want it to happen because it’s a vanity project,’ a source with knowledge of the issues told the Telegraph.
‘Basically Hancock has lost the plot. He spends money like water. It’s a waste and he doesn’t know what he’s getting for his money. They’ve spent five years planning that move.’
The source added that the chief executive of PHE Duncan Selbie is ‘hanging about’ in his role advising the Department of Health to make sure the move happens.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak will have the ultimate say on whether to sign off on funding the plans, and he will decide to do so after reviewing a modified business case for the project devised by Mr Barclay.
Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on February 14, 2020
A Department of Health insisted that despite having driven early plans for the relocation, Mr Selbie was focused on other elements of the transfer.
With regards to the Harlow plans, they said the department needs ’21st century public health labs’.
They added that the Harlow move is about ‘strengthening’ Porton Down, where staff are currently based.
Three years ago, the Government purchased the Harlow site for £35million.
The Harlow plans involved relocating staff from Porton Down and its London facilities.
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