Think MPs don’t give a fig? Number 10 joins outcry at £30,000 tree rental

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Downing Street has endorsed Commons Speaker John Bercow’s call for a £30,000-a-year contract to rent trees for an MPs’ office block to be ended.

Mr Bercow said he was “horrified” to find out the cost of the 12 fig trees in Portcullis House greenery and accepted taxpayers were being “fleeced”.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s official spokesman yesterday said Downing Street agreed with the Speaker, and that the Houses of Parliament must make savings along with other parts of the public sector.

The deal has been in place for 12 years and covers care and maintenance of the trees, which shade dining areas in the building’s glass-topped atrium, across the road from the Palace of Westminster.

But Mr Bercow said it should be scrapped immediately, if contractually possible without adding more costs, but no later than September.

In an interview with The House magazine, he said: “I was horrified by it. Inevitably and understandably it will cause people out there to think these people are living in another universe.

“I think the contract should absolutely be revisited. If we are going to have trees, they absolutely shouldn’t be trees that cause us to fleece the taxpayer in this way, and that must change at the earliest opportunity.

“If there is a contract and it’s going to cost us more to get out of it immediately than not, then it may well have to wait. But should the present arrangement continue beyond September? Absolutely not.”

Mr Cameron’s spokesman said: “All parts of the public sector need to be looking at where they can find savings, and I don’t see any reason why Parliament shouldn’t be part of that.”

The Speaker also called for annual party conferences to be cut to long weekends so that the Commons could sit without a break from September onwards.

“Most people have an annual holiday entitlement and unless they are taking annual holiday, they will ordinarily be at work in September.”