A PR firm with links to the Tory Party has been awarded £3 million in government work without undergoing an open tender process.
Topham Guerin was handed a contract to carry out coronavirus messaging for Downing Street just days before the lockdown in March, an investigation by The Guardian and openDemocracy has revealed.
The company, launched by New Zealand duo Sean Topham and Ben Guerin in 2016, produces images and videos for social media sites and worked on Boris Johnson’s 2019 election campaign.
It was handed a six-month contract under emergency Covid-19 regulations which meant it did not have to compete in an open tender process.
Topham Guerin were the masterminds behind rebranding the Conservative Party’s official Twitter account as ‘factcheckUK’ during a televised leaders’ debate, and setting up a website presented as Labour’s manifesto.
Under the £3 million deal, members of the company are required to attend daily meetings at Downing Street or the Cabinet Office and lead the branding strategy and produce social media content.
While their current contract runs until 16 September, it is understood that the Cabinet Office is already negotiating with them to send more work their way.
Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has criticised the decision.
‘Given the huge importance of communications during a deadly pandemic, work of this magnitude must surely be undertaken by long-standing, proven expertise in public health communications,’ she said.
Defending the contract, a Topman Guerin spokesperson said: ‘Topham Guerin were awarded a contract to help advise and generate social media content to support coronavirus communications.
‘This has been published on gov.uk in the normal way, in line with transparency rules. This work has helped to ensure that vitally important public health messages are effectively communicated to the public.’
A Cabinet Office spokesman said it did not comment on ongoing negotiations.
Downing Street appointed Topham Guerin to its Covid-19 communication drive in March 17 and formalised its contract on May 7.
The company has previously worked on election campaigns in Australia and has close ties to long-term Tory strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.
The duo, who are in their 20s, worked on huge propaganda campaigns for CTF Partners, which is run by Crosby on behalf of clients including the Saudi Arabian government and anti-cycling groups.
After its work on the Tory election campaign last year, Topham Guerin took on more staff at its London office in January and February. Among these appointments was Deborah Feldman, a former Conservative staffer who previously worked for CTF as managing director.
This is not the first time Downing Street has come under fire for awarding contracts under emergency regulations.
It also gave Public First, a policy and research firm owned by two long-term associates of both Cummings and the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, £840,000 worth of contracts on Brexit-related campaigns.