Company with links to Dominic Cummings was advising Ofqual to ‘secure public confidence’ over A-Levels

PUBLISHED: 09:15 20 August 2020 | UPDATED: 09:23 20 August 2020

Following an uproar and protests this weekend the government issued a U-turn on its A-levels results grading. Picture: PA/Victoria Jones

Following an uproar and protests this weekend the government issued a U-turn on its A-levels results grading. Picture: PA/Victoria Jones

PA Wire/PA Images

A company with links to Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove was given a contract to handle communications over this year’s A-Level results without going through the competitive tender process.

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Public First, a small research firm in London, is run by James Frayne - a longtime associate of Cummings who worked with him on Eurosceptic campaigns in the early 2000s - and Rachel Wolf, a former Gove advisor who co-wrote the 2019 Tory election manifesto.

The Guardian has revealed that the company has been involved in the communications surrounding this year’s exam results since being given a contract to work with Ofqual after the government handed the business a contract without competitive tender in June.

But whilst Ofqual has refused to reveal details of the contract, or the cost to taxpayers, the newspaper reports the role surrounded assistance with communicating the A-Level and GCSE results and to “secure public confidence in the strategy”.

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A spokesperson for Ofqual said the work initially surrounded gathering “insight on public opinion for this year’s exam arrangements”. But they added: “Due to the exceptional circumstances presented by the cancellation of exams, the single tender justification process was used for this contract, due to the need to urgently procure the work, in line with our procurement policy.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson dismissed any suggestion Michael Gove was involved in the awarding of the contract. They said: “The Cabinet Office had no involvement in the contract and did not discuss it with Ofqual.”

Yesterday the Mirror reported that the same company was awarded £116,000 with the Department of Health and Social Care to identify ways to “lock in the lessons learned” by the government over the coronavirus.

Expert Liz David-Bárrett, a professor of Governance and Integrity at the University of Sussex, told The New European last week: “Public procurement is important. It is – or should be - about spending public money in ways that serve the public interest. That matters even more in a crisis. And yet critical checks and procedures appear to have been abandoned at precisely the moment when we need them the most.

“As the evidence of poor practice in procurement mounts, it leaves the Johnson government open to charges that it has exploited the Covid crisis to award contracts to cronies.”

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