With the cry of victim blaming is Downing Street in denial?

26 May 1868 was the date of the last public execution in UK. Are we about to witness a series of senior advisers and staff being thrown under a Boris Bus in Whitehall to save his skin?

Nothing to do with the pervading culture at the top. – Owl

Operation Save Big Dog: Johnson’s plan for others to take fall over partygate

www.independent.co.uk

Boris Johnson is drawing up a list of officials to offer resignations over Partygate in a bid to salvage his premiership, The Independent has learned.

Dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog” by the prime minister himself, the blueprint includes a drive to work out which heads should roll following the publication of senior official Sue Gray’s findings, as well as highlighting the prime minister’s achievements, according to sources. Officials have also started using the code name, The Independent understands.

Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, his private secretary and author of the “BYOB” email, are thought to be possible candidates for departure.

While putting names to the plan is a matter of hot debate, a more broadly accepted idea is that at least one senior political appointee and a senior official must be seen to leave Downing Street over the affair, as both groups share blame, two Whitehall sources said.

A former Tory cabinet minister told The Independent that, although they backed Mr Johnson, they believed a “root and branch” overhaul of No 10 and parts of the Cabinet Office would prove essential to move on from Partygate. It would be a “bare minimum to translate contrition into action”, they said.

The “save big dog” plan includes a communications “grid” in the lead up to the investigation’s conclusion and beyond. This comprises lines for supportive ministers to take in press interviews, emphasising a contrite prime minister and listing his achievements amid the difficult choices posed by the pandemic.

The operation also includes sounding out support among backbenchers for possible leadership rivals including chancellor Rishi Sunak, foreign secretary Liz Truss and even former health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt is unlikely to command enough support to win the leadership, but No 10 aides believe could play an important role in any leadership contest.

The plan reflects how precarious the position of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office has become following a slew of highly detailed reports on parties amid Covid-19 restrictions.

On Friday, the former director general of the government’s Covid taskforce posted an apology on social media for holding leaving drinks in the Cabinet Office during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was cooperating with a probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray and admitted to a “gathering … with drinks, in our office”.

It followed an apology from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace after reports from The Daily Telegraph of two No 10 parties held on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral.

Officials have refused to confirm or deny if Boris Johnson was aware of these parties, after he admitted to attending at least one drinks party and was pictured at a second. On Friday the prime minister’s spokesman said: “It is deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No 10 has apologised to the palace.”

It is not clear if Downing Street admitted, in its apology to the palace, to having breached Covid rules with a social gathering. One of the gatherings was a leaving party for Mr Johnson’s director of communications, James Slack, who said on Friday that the “event should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Downing Street also refused to comment on the existence of a plan to save Mr Johnson, but when asked about the name “Operation Save Big Dog”, a spokesperson said: “We absolutely do not recognise this phrase.”

Polling for The Independent revealed voters are deserting Mr Johnson over the party scandal, with 70 per cent calling for him to quit and almost as many dismissing his Commons apology as bogus.

The survey, by Savanta, found that just 21 per cent backed the prime minister to stay in power.

Just as worryingly for the embattled leader, 68 per cent did not consider his apology – in which he claimed he did not realise a “bring your own booze” gathering in his garden was a party – to be genuine.

Backlash over move to turn Devon farms into homes

A long-running campaign to save two farms in Teigbridge from being turned into new housing developments is continuing to be fought.

Anita Merritt www.devonlive.com

In 2018, both Manor Farm and Markhams Farm were submitted by Devon County Council’s (DCC) land agent as possible sites for housing development, to the local authority Teignbridge District Council.

Markhams Farm, which lies between Ide and Alphington, has been earmarked in the Teignbridge Draft Local Plan as a huge housing plot where a total of 727 houses could be built.

The site is currently a working farm and part of the county council’s tenant farm estate.

Grade I agricultural farmland at Markhams Farm is one of more than 100 sites across Teignbridge identified as places where future housing could be provided.

Manor Farm at Holcombe, near Dawlish, is also listed as a site that has been submitted as an option for development by the landowner, DCC. It is also a successful working farm.

A campaign led by town and district councillor Alison Foden has been launched to save them for future generations of farmers.

An online petition calling for both farms to be withdrawn as sites for housing development has now been signed by more than 1,500 people.

Markhams Farm overlooking Exeter

Markhams Farm overlooking Exeter

Cllr Foden said: “How can Devon County Council justify throwing away the equivalent acreage of farmland to that which it purchased in 2009 in order to make Markhams Farm more viable?

“Arable and agricultural quality land should not ‘be disposed of’ in a piecemeal fashion, in order to ‘generate capital receipts’ for investment by the council in the capital programme, and ‘enable land to be replenished.

“Farms cannot be established like jigsaw pieces. Moving 80 acres of land from Markhams Farm to generate income to buy more land elsewhere will remove the viability from Markhams Farm which DCC sought to benefit in 2009 when it purchased an additional 85 acres of land there.

“How can DCC declare a climate and ecological emergency, and yet pay no regard farming sustainability, nor care for the current and next generations of farmers in our Devon, by selling off county farmland here and there?

“Why is DCC planning and working to sell off county farmland in order to generate capital receipts, when that county farmland can generate capital receipts for the council?

“Has DCC not considered the effects that the selling off parcels of county farmland must have on the mental health and wellbeing of the county farm tenants and the effects that the threatened sale must have on tenant farmers, their feelings for the farm security, and their farm work plans for the future?

“It is worrying that both sites at Markham Farm and at Manor Farm are proposed for house building at a time when the need for sustainable farming and encouragement for local farming is crucial at this time of climate and biodiversity emergency.”

Markhams Farm Exeter

Markhams Farm Exeter (Image: Teignbridge District Council)

A public consultation run by the district council has already ended.

The petitioners hope that by putting pressure on the county council the land will be withdrawn as a potential location for housing.

Devon County Council were approached for a comment.

Social care for elderly and vulnerable rationed as Covid hits staff

More than half of councils in England are resorting to exceptional measures to ration social care, a survey has found.

www.independent.co.uk 

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is forcing so many staff to take sick leave or self-isolate that the systems can no longer cope with rising demand, according to council chiefs.

They dubbed the situation “a worsening national emergency”.

Carers have increased the hours of homecare delivered to older people to record levels, councils report – but they still cannot keep up with the numbers requiring care.  

More than half of directors of social services who responded to the survey said that in at least some cases they were having to temporarily limit the care normally provided, leave people without their usual social contact or ask families to step in to help.  

Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adults Social Services (Adass), said: “We warned before Christmas that we were heading into a national emergency for social care. The sobering reality of that is now becoming starkly clear.  

“Every council is taking extraordinary steps and a majority say they are having to prioritise the most basic and essential care in at least some areas for some of the time.” 

A previous survey by the charity suggested that councils had increased the amount of homecare being provided by 15 per cent in just three months last year.

But more than 400,000 people were waiting for assessment or review of their care needs or for packages of support to be provided.  

The rapid spread of the coronavirus and pay rises in other sectors have worsened a shortage of workers, with more than 100,000 vacancies nationwide.

Agencies that employ them say that on average 14 per cent of their staff are off sick or isolating.  

The new survey found that 49 councils are taking at least one exceptional measure to prioritise care and assess risk for at least some of their area for some of the time.

Council chiefs said the shortages mean, for instance, prioritising life-sustaining care such as supporting someone to eat and remain hydrated over supporting someone to get out of bed or complete other activities.

In some cases staff are unable to review risks and are forced to leave people with dementia, learning disabilities or poor mental health isolated or alone for longer periods than usual.

Mr Chandler said: “These are decisions that no-one wants to take, and many are unacceptable. They are drastic measures and must not become, the norm.   

“Opportunities were repeatedly missed to ensure that adult social care would be robust enough to withstand the challenges posed by Omicron.

“Any money that has been forthcoming, though welcome, has been too little, too late.”  

The association is calling for the government to promise at least £7bn extra a year, rising to £9bn by 2024-25, and a social care minimum wage equal to that paid by the NHS for similar work.

It says a larger share from the new health and social care levy due to be added to national insurance from April should go to social care.

The government said it was doing everything possible to support care staff.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Care staff are working incredibly hard and we are doing everything we can to support them, including with a £462.5m recruitment fund, expanding the Health and Care (Worker) visa scheme, and our ‘Made with Care’ recruitment campaign.

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have made available more than £2.9bn in specific funding for adult social care.

“More than 50 million PCR and 142 million LFD kits have been delivered to care homes and we have invested a further £478m to support safe and timely hospital discharges to get patients into the best place for their care and support to continue.”

Exmouth is getting serious investment to help keep the community safe

How is this “investment” when part of the site is being sold off for development? – Owl

Simon Jupp www.devonlive.com

Exmouth, one of Devon’s largest towns with thousands of visitors every year, will get a brand new police station fit for the future. It’s truly fantastic news for the town I am very proud to represent.

I have been working closely with Alison Hernandez, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly since I was elected in December 2019. And now, Exmouth is getting serious investment to help keep the community safe with a new state-of-the-art police station.

Let’s be honest, the current police station is an ageing eyesore. I certainly won’t miss it. Neither will nearby residents nor our local police officers who deserve a far better place to work from.

Given the government’s on-going success towards achieving its commitment to recruit 20,000 new police officers, coupled with a clear desire from local residents to have a proper police station in Exmouth, I was able to work closely with the Police & Crime Commissioner and Chief Constable to look again at how we deliver policing locally.

We are set to have a record number of police officers across Devon & Cornwall. Numbers are due to hit 3,610 in the financial year from April. This is 110 more than the area’s previous high of 3,500 in 2009/2010 under the previous Labour government.

New officers will join experienced staff at the new police station in Exmouth. The current site will be redeveloped with part of the land sold to help fund the construction of the new police station on the existing site . A new project team has now been set up to design and deliver the new station. The team tasked with designing the new building will include an area for face-to-face contact between the police and the public.

As well as being one of the largest towns in Devon, Exmouth, along with other coastal communities in the county, has a range of specific challenges when it comes to policing compared to cites or towns in more urban areas.

As we know, Exmouth sees a large increase in population throughout the summer months due to visitors and tourism because so many people want to enjoy our superb beach, restaurants, leisure facilities and pubs. This can be quite a challenge for our local coppers and police staff, so it’s vital they have a modern local base from which to serve the needs of our community throughout the year.

This is the second major investment in local policing in the East Devon constituency since I was elected. I also look after Topsham and St Loyes in Exeter. In April 2020, the city also got a brand-new police station on Sidmouth Road, next to Devon and Cornwall Police’s Middlemoor headquarters. At a cost of £29m, this replaced the ageing Heavitree station.

All this investment is part of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s ongoing multi-million-pound modernisation programme and I am in no doubt that the new Exmouth policing base will further strengthen policing in the town.

Policing is constantly changing as our local populations increase and there are growing demands on our officers. Last year in Exmouth, the Town Council launched a new CCTV system at various locations in the town because the old system was no longer fit for purpose.

I have sat in the control room of this CCTV network and the technology is amazing in terms of what can be seen and where. Whilst chiefly acting as a deterrent, it allows the police to look at footage from across town following any reported incidents. It’s working really well, with many success stories already!

With a new police station for Exmouth, more officers in Devon and Cornwall than ever before, and a state-of-the-art CCTV system now up and running in Exmouth, it demonstrates significant investment in our town, the right resources to keep us safe and a real commitment to law and order in East Devon.

Neil Parish MP calls for ‘full truth’ on party

“Full truth” from/about Boris Johnson? Don’t hold your breath Neil, it’s an oxymoron. – Owl

As the Evening Standard writes:

The Government’s current “line to take”, that it must wait for senior civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation, is unsustainable and cannot possibly survive the bear pit of Prime Minister’s Questions. [Or another week of public ridicule? – Owl]

Johnson does not require an impartial inquiry in order to know whether he and 30 colleagues attended a bring-your-own-booze jamboree in his own garden at No 10….

…And while No 10 staffers were working long hours throughout the pandemic, so were many essential workers, not least in the NHS. They did not behave in this way, and they certainly were not simultaneously drafting laws and going on television to tell people how to behave.

This is long past being a Westminster village story. It has cut through in the polls because of its rank hypocrisy and disrespect to the public. Sue Gray is a highly respected public servant, but we do not need her to tell us what we can see with our own eyes.

Edward Oldfield www.devonlive.com (Extract)

Senior Devon MP Neil Parish has called for the “full truth” to be revealed about the lockdown party in Downing Street.

The Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton said the Prime Minister was right to apologise to the nation “for attending what may prove to be a rule-breaking event”.

He said the inquiry by a senior civil servant will establish what happened, and he was awaiting the outcome.

Mr Parish’s comments came on Thursday morning following Boris Johnson’s statement to the House of Commons.

The prime minister is facing calls for his resignation after he admitted attending the ‘bring your own booze’ event on May 20, 2020, in the garden of Downing Street.

Mr Parish, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “We need the full truth to be aired about the Prime Minister’s involvement, and to know exactly what happened. The inquiry by the senior Cabinet Office civil servant, Sue Gray, will determine that.

“However, as we await its outcome, the Prime Minister has rightly apologised to the House of Commons and to the nation for attending what may prove to be a rule-breaking event.

“Once the inquiry is concluded, the Prime Minister must return to the House of Commons and respond to its findings.

“I await the outcome of the inquiry, and what action the Prime Minister will take in response, if indeed he broke the rules.”

Devon backbencher Sir Gary Streeter says he is reserving judgement on Mr Johnson’s future as Prime Minister.

The Conservative MP for South West Devon says he is waiting for the outcome of the inquiry.

Sir Gary said: “As is the right thing to do, I am awaiting the outcome of the Gray enquiry before reaching a considered conclusion.”

Owl What were the Covid rules on 20 May 2020?

The UK went into lockdown on March 23, 2020.

From May 13, 2020, guidance was eased from only allowing people to leave the house for food, medical supplies and daily exercise.

The new guidance allowed people to meet up outdoors with only one other person from outside their household and two metres social distancing, needed to be in place.

You were not allowed to visit friends and family at their homes and gardens and Covid support bubbles had not been introduced.

Any shop deemed non-essential was closed. 

Rules at this time still encouraged working from home, however those in essential jobs including civil servants, were able to work in their place of employment.

In May, Boris Johnston announced that those who were unable to work from home could ‘speak to their employer about going back to work.’

But, workplace activities were restricted to working only, with social distance measures in place, socialising with work colleagues at this time was not allowed.

Although all this looks clear, the Johnson defence (and defence of Johnson) seems to rely on drawing a distinction between what were legally enforceable regulations, and what was “just” guidance (the difference between must and should). All along the Prime Minister has been reluctant to draw hard lines.  Retrospectively, it’s quite hard to disentangle the two. So there’s plenty of wriggle room for the legally minded.

Boris Johnson finds new enthusiasm for COBRA meetings, having missed the first five in 2020 

During January and February 2020 Boris Johnson failed to attend the first five COBRA meetings discussing how to respond to the  emerging national threat posed by Covid -19.

His first appearance was at the March 2 meeting.

Good to see his enthusiasm for attending Cobra meetings had returned by May.