At a press conference in the Rose Garden of 10 Downing street, Dominic Cummings gave his bizarre and at times implausible version of what happened once he believed his wife, and later he, had contracted the coronavirus (Covid-19) disease.
Somewhere in No. 10 must be a whiteboard with all the explanations they brainstormed for his trip to Barnard Castle, but ultimately rejected as being MORE insane than "driving eye test with my children in the car."
I would give anything to see it.
— Dmitry Grozoubinski (@DmitryOpines) May 25, 2020
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During the conference, Boris Johnson’s special adviser was asked several times by journalists if he would resign his position. But he refused. Perhaps that’s because his latest pet project is funded to a whopping £800m.
This latest project involves the development of a new ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency). Reportedly, Cummings’ WhatsApp profile includes the statement, “Get Brexit done, then ARPA”.
The last Queen’s Speech made reference to ARPA but not by name, saying simply that the government is committed to:
Backing a new approach to funding high-risk, high-payoff research in emerging fields of research and technology.
However, a separate briefing note explained that the research would be broadly modelled:
on the US ARPA. The US Government’s ‘Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’ (DARPA), which evolved from ARPA, employs ‘programme managers’ on 3–5 year contracts to fund high-risk, high-reward research. Its budget in financial year 2019–20 was approximately £2.65bn.
In the UK budget of March 2020, at least £800m was allocated to the project.
In a 2020 paper, co-authored by Boris Johnson’s brother Jo and published by the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange, another co-author argues that ARPA could work closely with the NHS, at least in terms of procurement:
At the very least ensuring procurement teams are engaged with ARPA mission leads right from the start and that they are empowered to think beyond the parameters of existing solutions and performance measures. If it is to go beyond central government to involve the NHS, local government and other major spenders, it may require new nationwide guidance or legislation to ensure that innovation is actively considered as a factor in procurement across the wider public sector.
NHS “procurement” in this context implies NHS privatisation.
So, possibly a controversial project.
But Cummings is no stranger to controversy. For example:
- He was campaign director for Vote Leave, which faced investigation for alleged malpractice regarding expenditure in the lead-up to the 2016 EU referendum. Vote Leave also ran a toxic advertising campaign riven with falsifications.
- In June 2018, he was declared in contempt of parliament after “refusing to obey an Order of the House that he should attend a meeting of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee”.
- He was also accused by a Conservative insider of running a “reign of terror” at No 10.
The trip to Durham has left many questions for Cummings still to answer, or dodge.
Far more important, it could be argued, is what is happening behind the scenes – particularly in regard to major AI and technology projects, such as the NHSX datasets project, the track and trace app, and ARPA.
But ask anyone in the street about ARPA, and it’s likely few will have heard of it.
Yet again, transparency is paramount to the way in which people can feel involved in government. But these days especially, that’s a very rare commodity.
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