Spending watchdog to probe Tory contracts with polling companies worth at least £833,000

Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, in Westminster. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street, in Westminster. Photograph: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Parliament's spending watchdog is to probe Downing Street's significant spend on opinion polling.

At least £833,000 has been spent on opinion polling in the first six months of the year, the Times report, more than the total spend the year before.

The figures put the government on track to spend £2 million by the end of the year, in comparison to £686,000 spent last year.

The spend covers key issues including Brexit and the coronavirus response.

One contract criticised in recent weeks was with a research company with links to Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings, and was agreed without an open tender for the work.

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Now the public accounts committee has vowed to investigate the spend.

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'This is a big increase in funding,' said Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the committee. 'There are good reasons to engage with the public, but we should know more about how this money was spent and what benefit the polling has delivered to taxpayers.'

Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, demanded the government explain 'why spending these colossal sums on opinion polling is in the public interest and what the full purpose of this is'.

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'This Conservative government once claimed to follow the science during this crisis and we deserve to know if they've been chasing the polling instead,' she added.

MORE: Public First row a sign of government exploiting Covid-19 crisis

Last month a Tory backbencher hit out at the figures, saying: A Tory backbencher hit out at the claims, by telling the newspaper: 'Leadership is about leading. The clue is in the name...

'We've taken an age to get shops and pubs open. At the moment we are seeing neither leadership or competence.'

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: 'During this unprecedented pandemic it has been vital that people follow public health messages to save lives.

'To that end we have a comprehensive programme of research to understand public attitudes and behaviour. This work has helped us to deliver communications campaigns to support the UK's response.'

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