Payments raise questions over Dominic Cummings’ connections with Vote Leave firm hired by government
PUBLISHED: 12:41 13 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:41 13 July 2020
Dominic Cummings has refused to explain why a private company he owned and controlled paid a firm, now hired by the government and that is linked to the Vote Leave campaign, payments of £260,000.
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The prime minister’s top advisor has declined to comment on the newspaper reports that he paid artificial intelligence (AI) firm Faculty a quarter of a million pounds in instalments over two years.
The Guardian’s revelations will raise eyebrows over Cummings’ connection with the AI firm after it emerged Faculty - which carried out data modelling for the Vote Leave campaign during the Brexit referendum - was awarded 13 government tenders totalling £3 million since early 2018.
Faculty had been hired to carry out data modelling for ministers working on the government’s coronavirus response and is currently working on a track-and-trace app.
Soon after taking charge as Johnson’s chief aide, Cummings appointed Ben Warner, a Faculty employee and former Vote Leave colleague, as a special advisor on data and technology to the prime minister.
The company’s founder, Marc Warner, has also been in the media spotlight after having admitted to attending scientific advisory group on emergencies (SAGE) meetings.
Lawyers representing the company rejected claims it received preferential treatment, arguing it won tenders based on the firm’s expertise. It did, however, fail to comment on why it received the funds from Dynamic Maps, Cummings’ private consultancy firm.
“We win work on the strength of our results that are achieved through our extensive domain knowledge and high technical competency,” it said. “We are committed to the safe use of AI and have published a number of scientific research papers and built practical tooling to help address this”.
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A Faculty company document seen by the Guardian indicates it received almost £260,000 from Dynamic Maps across 2018 and 2019. Dynamic Maps is listed on the document as a “customer”.
Cummings set up Dynamic Maps in October 2017 and used it for private consultancy work, which including advising Babylon Health, a healthcare start-up backed by cabinet minister Matt Hancock.
He is in the process of closing the company.
The Vote Leave mastermind has long championed using data science and physics to help minister make decisions. He most recently asked Whitehall officials to read a books that promoted paranoia and superforecasters - a form of predicting events through random selection.
A No 10 spokeswoman said all contracts awarded to Faculty followed proper procurement procedures.
She said: “On becoming a special adviser, Mr Cummings started a new job and gave up any commercial roles; the necessary steps have rightly been taken to wind down his previous company. Special advisers have no role in authorising the expenditure of public funds.”
Faculty has declined to comment on media reports.
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