Our correspondent stalks the corridors and canteens and, indeed, toilets of power this week in his endless search for those things the government doesn't want you to see

Death and taxes

I'm told that civil servants come from all over Whitehall to eat in the refurbished Treasury, which also houses the combined departments of Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue.

With its restaurants, canteens and deli counters, 100 Parliament Street has now overtaken the ICA as the places to grab lunch. But for all the modern facilities on offer, it appears that the PFI refurbishment by Foster and Partners retains some vestiges of the past. Apparently, the building has a phantom tea lady - much to the puzzlement of PFI operator Stanhope. Nobody knows where she operates from but she can often be spotted doing her mid-afternoon rounds. Rumour has she owes back tax and the Revenue is making her pay it off …

Round the bend

Talking of the Treasury Building: splendid as it, it is not without the odd problem. Apparently someone is in the habit of stuffing the toilets with copious amounts of loo roll. My spies are convinced that it's to do with a grudge from the 1970s, when unions fought with management to be allowed soft tissue …


The MIPIM property festival in Cannes is now just a matter of days away and I hear that Cyril Sweett chairman Francis Ives is preparing for his annual drive south. The idea is that Ives, along with several of his colleagues, enjoys a relaxing drive in convoy down to the French coast, stopping off for some fine wining and dining along the way. However, I hear that once the convoy makes it across the Channel, the drive suddenly turns into something resembling a Formula 1 race with the overexcited construction types desperate to see what their supercars are really made of.

Costume drama

At the launch of the 2006 Prime Minister's Better Public Buildings Award last week, Building columnist Ed Balls revealed that he had been asked to take the role of Father Christmas at the annual party for the staff of MPs. This caused a bit of a moral dilemma for him and wife Yvette Cooper, who eventually decided not to tell their two young children that Santa Claus did not really exist. At the party all seemed to go smoothly as the kids came into the grotto and began queuing for their rewards for a year of good behaviour.

But afterwards, Cooper found her six-year-old crying in the corner and assumed she was upset that Santa wouldn't be able to get round all the children in time. "It's not that," the child sniffled. "There's more than 100 children at this party so why does it have to be my dad in the silly costume?"

A warm welcome

The latest Movers and Shakers property networking breakfast was enlivened by a talk from Charles Allen, who revealed what happened to him on his first day as chief executive of Granada Television back in 1991. He'd moved into television from food group Compass. On his desk was a welcoming fax that read, quite simply, "F*** OFF YOU UPSTART CATERER." It was from one John Cleese.

The challenge

Well, as the winter wanes and the tender crops are inspired by the zephyrs of spring, so our thoughts naturally turn to cricket. As you may recall, we at Building began polishing our balls at the end of last season, and now we're eager to take on the industry. Anyone looking for extra names to add to their fixture list can contact us at building@cmpinformation.com.

Not up for debate

Despite being £400m over budget and 20 months late, the Scottish parliament building looked to have put its problems behind it with last year's Stirling Prize victory. Not so, it seems. Last week, MSPs had to be evacuated when a wooden beam came loose in the debating chamber. It just stopped from crashing into a glass screen and remained hanging above the chamber. It is not clear when the members will be able to return, but in the meantime the original project team gets to revisit its favourite Scottish haunt to help safety inspectors work out what went wrong.

Hansom illustration

Credit: Colin Wheeler