Police investigating party in Boris and Carrie Johnson’s flat

A party in Boris and Carrie Johnson’s flat is one of 12 events being investigated by the Metropolitan police over alleged lockdown breaches, it has emerged, as the Sue Gray report found “failures of leadership and judgment” in No 10.

Rowena Mason www.theguardian.com 

Gray, a senior civil servant, criticised the culture in Johnson’s Downing Street that allowed social gatherings to take place during lockdown, which were “difficult to justify”.

The findings were released on the government’s website in a shortened and redacted form, after the Met last week said it was investigating some of the gatherings.

Although Gray said she was not able to publish her full report, a string of Conservative MPs said the conclusions were still extremely serious for Johnson – not least because one of the gatherings under police investigation was in the prime minister’s apartment.

In the Commons, Johnson was challenged by Theresa May, his predecessor as prime minister, who said either he “had not read the rules, didn’t understand the rules, or didn’t think they applied to No 10”.

Andrew Mitchell, a Tory MP and former cabinet minister, said Johnson “no longer enjoys” his support.

And in a dramatic moment, Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, accused Johnson of having “lied and misled” the house of Commons and was ejected from the chamber by the Speaker.

Johnson had previously denied in the House of Commons that any party on 13 November, 2020, had taken place. Johnson was also present at another of the parties under investigation by police – in the Downing Street garden on 20 May, 2020.

Johnson rejected these criticisms in turn but promised that he would overhaul the structure of No 10 to address some of Gray’s criticisms. “I get it and I will fix it,” he told MPs.

In the report, Gray did not criticise the prime minister personally, or pass judgment on his past statements, but highlighted failures of leadership in No 10 and the Cabinet Office.

The 12-page report said: “At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”

It added: “At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public.

“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”

Gray listed 16 gatherings on 12 dates across 20 months in 2020-21 that she had examined for evidence of rule-breaking, of which 12 are being investigated by police. These include a gathering in the No 10 flat – thought to be a reference to the prime minister’s own residence even though he lives at No 11 – and a Christmas party in Downing Street, as well as several leaving parties.

The civil service chief said she had interviewed more than 70 people and examined relevant email information, WhatsApp messages, photographs and exit logs. She said some staff had “wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so”.

“A number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place, or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across government.”

Gray said her report was limited by the Met police request for her to make only minimal reference to gatherings they were investigating. She said she had decided not to publish factual accounts of the other four dates as she did not feel able to do so without detriment to the overall balance of findings.

However, she left the door open to returning to the evidence she gathered after the Met police had investigated, saying it was being stored and saved “until such time as it may be required further”.

Earlier on Monday, No 10 had said it was “unclear” whether she would publish a further, more comprehensive, report in the future.

Devon building giant confirms bombshell news plus projects in jeopardy 

Troubled South West construction giant Midas Group has confirmed that it wants to appoint an administrator in a move which has stunned the region.

Guy Henderson www.devonlive.com

The business, one of the UK’s largest privately-owned construction and property services companies, filed notices of intention to appoint an administrator on Friday, January 28.

This was for three companies: Midas Group, its construction arm Midas Construction, and its housing division Mi-Space.

Midas was recently ranked as the ninth largest private sector firm in the South West, by the Western Morning News, with a reported turnover of £291,267,008 and 498 employees.

But rumours have been circulating in recent weeks that the company was in financial trouble, after it announced a £2m loss in 2021 – its first deficit in 40 years of trading.

The company has important construction jobs ongoing throughout the region and has offices in Indian Queens in Cornwall, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Bristol, Newport in South Wales and Southampton.

However, concerns were raised when it emerged that work has ceased on three major Midas Construction hotel projects in Torquay, and that the Coal Orchard development in Taunton had been hit by a dispute with subcontractors.

Midas has now confirmed its intention to appoint an administrator – a process which can save a firm from liquidation and halts pending creditor action.

In a statement, Midas said: “On Friday January 28, 2022, the company filed notices of intention to appoint an administrator in respect of Midas Group, Midas Construction Ltd and Mi-Space (UK) Ltd.

“This does not mean that Midas has entered into administration and the company continues to operate, while the directors work to explore all available options to achieve the best outcome for the business and our people, our customers, supply chain partners and all our stakeholders.

“Midas is committed to pursuing an outcome that will achieve continuity for our live contracts and asks all our valued stakeholders to remain supportive of the group at this time.”

In 2021, Midas blamed much of its losses on the Covid pandemic and in its statement said: “As has been well documented, there have been issues relating to the Covid pandemic, ongoing shortages of materials and labour, and significant cost inflation, which are providing challenges in the construction sector and across the UK economy, which have had a direct impact on Midas’s own operations.

“Over recent weeks we have been working closely with all our stakeholders to attempt to resolve the situation and are continuing to do so.”

List of projects in jeopardy – and it’s long

Guy Henderson www.devonlive.com

Concerns are growing over the future of some of the South West’s biggest construction projects after Midas Group Ltd announced it intended to appoint an administrator.

The Exeter-headquartered firm and its subsidiaries Midas Construction Ltd and Mi-Space (UK) Ltd are involved in key building schemes across the region including in Plymouth, Torbay, Cornwall, Somerset and Bristol.

The projects include commercial and residential developments, for private and public sector clients, and are in various stages of completion.

But now the future of the schemes has been thrown into doubt after Midas filed notices of intention to appoint an administrator.

Midas was recently ranked as the ninth largest private sector firm in the South West, by the Western Morning News Annual Business Guide 2022, with a reported turnover of £291,267,008 and 498 employees. But rumours have been circulating in recent weeks that the company was in financial trouble, after it announced a £2m loss in 2021 – its first deficit in 40 years of trading.

The company has offices in Indian Queens in Cornwall, Exeter, Newton Abbot, Bristol, Newport in South Wales, and Southampton.

It has sought to reassure stakeholders, stressing it is still operating and said: “Midas is committed to pursuing an outcome that will achieve continuity for our live contracts and asks all our valued stakeholders to remain supportive of the group at this time.”

But if it does go into administration, which could follow in a matter of days, construction projects may well be affected. And if the company goes into liquidation or ceases trading, other firms would have to be brought in to complete the buildings.

Tim Jones, chairman of the South West Business Council, questioned whether the South West would have the capacity or ability to complete so many key projects.

He said: “We are entitled to worry about how any of these outstanding projects can be delivered as they are all pivotal as catalysts for growth.”

Here is a rundown of the key projects Midas is involved in:

Torbay – £40m hotels

Concerns about the financial health of Midas surfaced when work dried up at three major hotel projects in Torbay.

Midas Construction’s work stopped completely at Torbay Council’s £11 Premier Inn scheme at The Terrace in January 2022. The hotel was expected to be completed in late 2022.

And The Fragrance Group, which is ploughing £30m into two hotel builds on Paignton Esplanade, stated it was “increasingly concerned” about lack of process on the sites. The 160-bed Mercure Hotel was expected to open in February 2022, with the Ibis Styles hotel to follow this year.

Plymouth – £22m Barne Barton rebuild

Construction was due to start in spring 2022 after Midas was appointed to build 204 homes as part of the £22m regeneration of the Barne Barton area of Plymouth.

The UK’s largest provider of affordable housing, Clarion Housing Group, is transforming what was once Britain’s largest naval estate into a “sustainable and vibrant community” and Midas was selected to develop a 4.65-hectare site within the neighbourhood via its Mi-space company. The homes are supposed to be ready by early 2023.

Midas was also chosen to carry out hard and soft landscaping, including the creation of a one-way home zone to provide people-friendly streets, together with a public square, open spaces and green areas for people to enjoy.

Bodmin – £6.3m STEM Centre

Midas’ work on Cornwall’s £6.3m “shovel-ready” STEM centre is due to be completed by Spring 2022.

The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and Health Skills Centre for North and East Cornwall, called the Ottery building, is being built in Bodmin by Truro and Penwith College and is designed to train the aerospace, space, creative, energy, mining and health sector workers of tomorrow.

The project, on which work started in February 2021, is being supported by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which is meeting £3.78m of the costs through the Government’s Getting Building Fund (GBF) for “shovel-ready” projects.

Penzance – £5.8m Creative Cluster

Work started in late 2021 on a hub for creative businesses. The Penzance Creative Cluster being built by Midas Construction at Causewayhead is intended to provide up to 30 modern studios and flexible workspaces for creative sector businesses, from high tech digital companies to visual and performing artists.

The £5.8m project is an important part of Cornwall Council’s wider strategy to regenerate and reinvigorate Penzance town centre.

Liskeard and Bodmin – 146 homes

Building work on 46 homes in Liskeard reached a major milestone with a topping out ceremony in October 2021. The Maudlin Farm scheme, on land south of Lake Lane, is being developed by Treveth, the partnership company set up by Cornwall Council to deliver new homes and commercial development to benefit people who live and work in Cornwall.

It will feature 35 homes for private rent and 11 affordable homes, including seven affordable rent and four shared ownership properties, available from spring 2022. Construction is being carried out by Mi-space which started on the project in March 2021.

Mi-space is also involved in Treveth projects to deliver 100 homes at the former St Lawrence’s Hospital site in Bodmin. The scheme, called Park Lanneves, is expected to see the first homes available in the summer of 2022.

Redruth – £1.9m school extension

The £1.9m project at Pennoweth Primary School, part of the Crofty Multi-Academy Trust, is being carried out to meet growing demand for places and will enable the school intake to increase from 315 to 420 pupils.

Midas Construction was chosen to build the new single storey extension which will provide new teaching rooms and a new small hall in addition to creating an accessible and sustainable building for the expanding school. With work now under way on site, the aim is for the transformation to be complete in time for the start of the new school year in September 2022.

Paignton – affordable homes

Work began in December 2021 to develop nine affordable rent homes including one adapted home at Totnes Road, Paignton.

TorVista Homes and Torbay Council aim to increase the supply of affordable homes within Torbay with the homes due for completion in November 2022.

Mi-space was appointed to build the homes and commenced demolition of the two derelict homes on site in December.

Taunton – Coal Orchard flats

Work has also ground to a halt at the Coal Orchard development in Somerset after subcontractors reportedly walked off site in the days leading up to Midas’ notice of intention to appoint an administrator. Midas Construction is involved in the multi-million pound project to build flats, work spaces and leisure business units on a plot owned by Somerset West and Taunton Council.

Gloucester – £11.8m student accommodation

An £11.8m scheme which will provide additional student bed spaces in the heart of Gloucester city centre is being developed by Cityheart Limited with Midas Construction as the contractors.

The Blackfriars Residence project, in Barbican Way, is the second phase of the Blackfriars Residence scheme and follows the success of the first phase, a 295-bed development, which opened its doors to its first cohort of students in 2018.

The latest project involves the creation of a further 190 bedrooms over two blocks, with 128 student spaces in one block and 62 in the second.

Midas Construction is due to complete the second phase in summer 2022 with the residences will be available for students from the University of Gloucestershire and Hartbury College and University.

Yeovil – town centre refresh

Work has been ongoing in Yeovil to improve the look of the town centre and make it easier and more accessible for shoppers.

Westminster Street was the first area in the town centre to see improvement work under the Yeovil Refresh public realm enhancements. Midas was appointed to undertake the scheme where construction works were due to end in late 2021 with other parts of the town to follow in 2022.

Wincanton – £10m care home

Care provider Cornerstone Healthcare chose Midas Construction to build the £10m Cale View scheme, in Wincanton.

The 74-bed home will provide care for adults of all ages, with challenging behaviours associated with complex neurological and mental health conditions. It is due to be completed in 2022.

Fleet – 60-bed care home

The first of a new generation of care homes is to be built in Fleet, Hampshire, by Midas Construction on behalf of Principle Care Homes.

Heron Manor, on Reading Road North will see the creation of a 60-bedroom care home which will provide residential and dementia care and include features such as a physiotherapy suite, exercise studio and hydrotherapy pool. It is scheduled to open in Spring 2023.

During the past five years Midas has built 15 care homes, on behalf of private operators and local authorities, with a combined value of £100m and providing a total of 627 bed spaces.

Bristol – £10.6m office refurbishment

Midas Construction began work on the £10.6m office and retail refurbishment of the former Tower House, in Fairfax Street, close to The Galleries, with the new look building set to be renamed The Fairfax and opening in early 2022.

The development aims to offer a mix of office and social space, providing a cultural hub. The revamp of the 14-storey, 71,000sq ft office building will see substantial refurbishment across all floors, which includes offices, a café and retail units on the ground floor, one of which will be a yoga studio.

Swindon – £50m housing scheme

Nationwide Building Society’s £50m Oakfield project, delivering 239 homes, is being delivered by Mi-space. Work began in 2021 and is scheduled for completion by Spring 2022.

Southampton – £14m engineering centre

Midas Construction has started work on The Engineering Centre, a £14m project which will enhance collaboration for the University of Southampton Science Park and businesses within the Enterprise M3 LEP area. It will also house the Future Towns Innovations Hub (FTIH).

The building, due for completion in early 2022, will provide specialist laboratory facilities that will support a range of sectors such as eco-hydraulics, electronics, transport research, aerospace, energy, unmanned systems and a number of hydraulic flumes. Wave force tanks and anechoic chambers designed to deaden sound are among the elements to be developed by Midas Construction.

Camberley – power tools HQ

Midas Construction has been appointed to build a new warehouse and GB headquarters for leading global power tools company STIHL.

The project will see the creation of a 11,285sq m purpose-designed facility off the A331 in Camberley, Surrey.

The investment follows sustained growth for STIHL GB and will allow the business and its workforce of 95 employees to move from existing premises nearby in the Yorktown area of Camberley. The Southampton-based Southern Division of Midas Construction began preparatory work on site in December 2021.

Countryfile viewers infuriated by ‘cruel’ dairy farm segment ‘Very disappointed!’

This is the reaction of some viewers to the BBC Countryfile programme on Sunday. This was the first  time that Countryfile devoted a whole programme to just one landowner, in this case Clinton Devon Estate.

COUNTRYFILE viewers weren’t impressed with one aspect of Sunday’s instalment as Matt Baker visited a dairy farm.

Charlotte McIntyre www.express.co.uk

Matt Baker took a trip to Otter Farm on the Clinton Devon Estates in the latest edition of Countryfile. The BBC presenter spoke to Youngstock Manager Alice heading up the calving team but fans of the rural show took to social media to share their “disappointment” at one of the processes being implemented on the farm.

Alice showed Matt around the farm and introduced him to some newborn calves. 

“What time were these born?” Matt asked and Alice replied: “This one was born nine o’clock last night and the other two four o’clock this morning.”

“They’re doing very well but obviously not with mum,” Matt pointed out.

Alice explained: “Ideally we take them off as soon as possible.

Countryfile Matt Baker Alice cow

Countryfile: Matt quizzed Alice on how she and her team manage the dairy farm (Image: BBC)

“We let the mother cow lick the calf because it’s really important to release the pheromones in the cow’s brain, it helps with pain relief.

“But after that, we take the calf away to make sure it has its colostrum that it really needs.”

Matt remarked: “And that term colostrum, that really special milk with all of the antibodies.

“That’s really key to the [calves]. How do you get it to them?”

“With a cow, there’s no immunity passed through the placenta so it’s 100 percent dependent on the colostrum,” Alice answered. 

“But with cows, they produce so much milk that the colostrum gets diluted away within a matter of hours.

“So we take the calf away, put it somewhere nice and clean and cosy, milk the cow and then feed the calf the colostrum.”

“How long do they stay in this barn?” Matt queried.

“They’ll be in here for 14 weeks and then after that, they go outside and enjoy the sunshine on their backs,” she replied. 

Countryfile viewers took to Twitter to slam the process of taking calves away from their mothers.

Jane Ward tweeted: “Why on earth would you remove calves from their mums? Profit? Profit? Profit? #countryfile.”

Sarah Hutchison remarked: “Very disappointed to see #countryfile showcasing the practice of removing calves at birth. Calves should be with their mothers until weaning.”

“Naively thought that calves were kept with the mother cow until they were at least 6 months old Face with cold sweat #countryfile,” Mary Hinge said. (sic)

Michelle Gray wrote: “Calves should be with their mums #countryfile.”

“Dairy farming is so cruel on the mother cows and calves #countryfile,” @Bufferb2012 shared. 

Boris Johnson reorganises Downing Street in response to Sue Gray criticism

“I get it. I’ll sort it.”

First announcement, hot off the press: there will be a new “Office of the Prime Minister” to replace the “Prime Minister’s Office”.

PMO becomes OPM.

A re-branding exercise, what genius thought that one up?

Order the new stationary immediately! (And what about a new paint job for the flat?)- Owl