The UK Government has been criticised for spending tens of millions of pounds on marketing and public relations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mirror has reported that a number of signed government contracts for such work were created between May and August 2020, with many rushed through as “urgent” without being put out for tender.
The spending primarily consisted of public relations services such as “media analysis” and “consultancy services” relating to the coronavirus.
The move was criticised by Shadow Cabinet Office Minister, Rachel Reeves, who stated: “Spending millions on media work won’t make up for political incompetence or mixed messages from ministers.”
Additionally, 16 private firms have been confirmed to be working with Whitehall departments on the coronavirus response this summer, with little room for competition for other potential consultancy contracts. Some of these firms include notable names such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Deloitte.
Marketing firm advertising and marcomms agency, Mullen Lowe, alone has received £16 million from Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove’s department for “campaign services” relating to COVID-19. £10 million was also given to creative agency 23Red for similar work.
About a month ago, the Guardian OpenDemocracy revealed that, on May 7, PR firm Topham Guerin received a six-month £3 million contract in order to handle the “government communications” under “emergency procurement rules”.
The New Zealand firm is associated with working for CTF Partners on a large-scale Facebook “disinformation” campaign and the Tory election in 2019. It has been confirmed that Topham Guerin and the Cabinet Office are negotiating a new contract after it expires on September 16.
A Topham Guerin spokesperson stated that the firm partnered with Mullen Lowe to assist in the “Enjoy Summer Safely” campaign that was released in early July. Mullen Lowe has not published or stated its involvement with Topham Guerin but both companies were given funds in June for marketing and media research.
Spending exceeding £25,000 is documented in the Government’s transparency data each month, which can be accessed by the general public. The documents show that the Cabinet Office spent at least £5 million on more than two hundred instances of research and media marketing related to COVID-19 in June and July alone.
A Government spokesperson stated that the Cabinet Office had to draw on the “expertise of a number of private sector partners” as an “unprecedented response” to COVID-19.
“We have been clear from the outset that public authorities must achieve value for taxpayers’ money,” they said, “and use good commercial judgement when awarding contracts.”
The spending the Cabinet Office made in August 2020 will be made public in early September and may reveal information on how much more money was given to private consultants and marketing firms.
Several contracts made to firms like Topham Guerin are set to expire in September or later in the autumn and are set to renew. Due to this, it is important for UK citizens to stay aware of government spendings toward the COVID-19 response as the virus will likely stick around until after the new year.