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Downing Street’s costly makeover

The union flag colours projected onto 10 Downing Street, to mark Brexit - Credit: PA

TIM WALKER reports on the latest on a scheme to modernise Downing Street, the long wait for Paul Dacre’s TV show, and those mystery Michael Gove press briefings…

Having  blown tens of thousands of pounds on new offices for his former henchman Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson is now focusing on making Downing Street a sufficiently opulent place for him to live and work.

Transparency disclosures show that since Johnson became prime minister in July 2019, a total of £1.6m has been spent on what is being called The Downing Street Modernisation Programme – all but £34,000 of which has been paid to the established government contractor Interserve Facilities Management, which also works with the Home Office, Foreign Office and Department for Transport. Its boss is Alan Lovell, whose wife Virginia is the daughter of the late Commons Speaker Bernard Weatherill.

Cabinet Office spending on the programme appears to have been accelerating lately with £1,019,646 spent in November, £348,406 in October and £205,525 in September, as well as £32,280 in April. This is significantly up on the £227,000 spent between August 2019 and January 2020. 

The Cabinet Office doesn’t disclose what exactly the money was spent on. All the payments to Interserve come under the general heading of “PPE – POA & AUC (Owned) – Cost additions – buildings.” Still, throwing taxpayers’ money around in this way must come as some consolation for Johnson who is said to be resentful that he is £900,000 down on the money he was able to make out of the Telegraph bosses and others before he entered Downing Street.

Invisible man

Mandrake had been waiting patiently for the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre‘s three-part television special for Channel 4 in which he would grandly recount how he had re-shaped modern Britain. 

The series – first announced in August 2019 – was expected to air early this year, but Channel 4 has not had a word to say about it. The assumption was it would coincide with the publication of his memoirs – tentatively entitled A Dish Best Eaten [sic] Cold – that he’d begun at the behest of Natasha Fairweather, Boris Johnson’s literary agent. No word, either, about these.

Even the job at Ofcom that Dacre was said to be in line for looks like it will now go to someone else – Maggie Carver, the broadcasting watchdog’s deputy chair, is doing so well as its interim boss that she’s expected to be given it full-time. 

Health kick

Whoever Michael Gove‘s “friend” is who keeps tipping him as the next health secretary – anything to escape responsibility for the calamity that is Brexit – doesn’t seem to be getting through to Boris Johnson. The Times reported over the weekend how “some” saw Gove as “a natural” to replace Matt Hancock, and quoted “a cabinet minister” saying how he’d done “a solid job” chairing the Covid meetings.

Before Christmas, the Daily Telegraph had said much the same, quoting “one source” – the same one who’s been blabbing to the Telegraph? – as saying “Mr Gove would be a perfect candidate at the Department of Health”. 

Over the weekend, the Sunday Times quoted a “minister” who is obviously becoming increasingly frustrated taking a shot at Johnson himself over the government’s handling of the pandemic. “What we actually need is behavioural change from Boris,” he harrumphed.

Happy ending

The idea that journalism is about standing up for the little guy against the mighty took a novel turn when the Daily Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson threatened to sue and “finish” Dave Bradshaw, a scientist, who’d alleged she was stoking aggression towards NHS workers doing their best during the Covid pandemic.

Bradshaw apologised, but Pearson, who has been sceptical about the dangers posed by Covid, threatened him with a libel action and tweeted details about his employer and workplace. There was widespread disapproval of her tactics and eventually she accepted Bradshaw’s apology. 

Happily, some good has come of this. Mandrake hears that Gina Martin, the campaigner who helped to make “upskirting” illegal, raised £6,800 to help Bradshaw through his ordeal. Bradshaw has selflessly donated every penny to the Mind mental health charity. 

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