Tory-linked PR firm granted £3m Covid-19 contract without tender

The political communications company behind the Conservative party’s controversial 2019 digital campaign strategy received a £3m government contract to work on Covid-19 messaging without a competitive tender and is negotiating with the Cabinet Office for more work, the Guardian and openDemocracy can reveal.

Topham Guerin, founded in 2016 by two young New Zealanders, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, specialises in producing images and videos for social media and has worked for a number of rightwing political parties.

It was behind two Tory election campaign stunts that attracted widespread criticism: renaming the official Conservative party Twitter account “factcheckUK” during the leaders’ debate, and setting up a website presented as Labour’s manifesto.

An investigation by the Guardian and openDemocracy found that on 17 March, shortly before the UK went into lockdown, Topham Guerin was contracted by the Cabinet Office to work on the government’s public communications.

Under emergency Covid-19 regulations that allow the government to ditch usual competitive tendering practices, no tender was conducted to allow other companies to bid for that work. A six-month contract was subsequently formalised on 7 May, with a retrospective 17 March start date, for a total of £3m. The details were not made public until mid-July.

Topham Guerin is the latest Conservative party-linked company known to have received contracts from the government under the emergency procurement rules.

Others include Faculty – an AI company that worked for the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 – and Public First, a policy and research firm owned by two long-term associates of both Cummings and the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove.

The Topham Guerin contract sets out the high-level responsibilities of the firm, including that its staff will attend daily meetings at Downing Street or the Cabinet Office, lead the branding strategy and produce social media content.

The contract also said the role would include weekly meetings with the British army’s information unit, the 77th Brigade, “to review fake news mitigation efforts and provide recommendations on further actions to take”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman told the Guardian that Topham Guerin had principally been producing social media messages, and that the meetings with the 77th Brigade never took place.

The Guardian has previously reported that Topham and Guerin, who are in their 20s, worked on huge propaganda campaigns for CTF Partners, run by the Tories’ long-term strategist Sir Lynton Crosby, on behalf of clients including major polluters, 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 Mayfair office in January and February. Among these appointments was Deborah Feldman, a former Conservative staffer who previously worked for CTF as managing director.

While the £3m contract with Topham Guerin runs until 16 September, the Guardian has learned that the Cabinet Office is negotiating a new contract with the firm. It is not clear what the proposed contract is for, or if it will be tendered competitively. The company did not respond to a question about the new contract, and a Cabinet Office spokesman said it did not comment on ongoing negotiations.

The spokesman said the firm, which started in New Zealand politics and worked on Scott Morrison’s Liberal party election victory in Australia last year, was selected for the Covid-19 contract due to its “wealth of experience in communications”.

“Topham Guerin were awarded a contract to help advise and generate social media content to support coronavirus communications,” the spokesman added. “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 spokesman for Topham Guerin said the company had provided direction for the Enjoy Summer Safely campaign by the advertising agency Mullenlowe.

“Topham Guerin are proud to have worked with both the New Zealand and UK governments to provide creative and digital support for their all-of-government responses to the Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

The shadow Cabinet Office minister, Rachel Reeves, criticised the awarding of the contract without a tender to the former campaigners on behalf of the Tories.

“Given the huge importance of communications during a deadly pandemic, work of this magnitude must surely be undertaken by longstanding, proven expertise in public health communications,” Reeves said.

New UK coronavirus restrictions will test optimism over economic recovery

“Having made a mess of the health emergency when Covid-19 first surfaced, the government is now making a complete Horlicks of the economic crisis. Who knows, more chaos now could eventually lead to a happier, friendlier Britain later but one thing’s for sure: there will be much misery first.”

Larry Elliott www.theguardian.com 

Records are there to be broken, so it would be unwise to claim that there will never be a worse performance by the US or eurozone economies than was seen in the spring of 2020. It would, though, take something truly spectacular: a nuclear war, a meteor strike, a pan-continental climate catastrophe or a more severe pandemic than Covid-19.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on just how dire the recent economic news has been. The UK is a bit behind the US and the eurozone and does not report its second-quarter growth figures until 12 August but it is already known that the economy contracted by about 25% in only two months – March and April. Even with a pick-up in activity in May and June, activity was probably still about 15% below its pre-crisis level at the start of the third quarter.

It is a similar story elsewhere. Fifteen years of growth in the eurozone were wiped out in a single three-month period, while it was considered modestly good news last week when the second-quarter falls in gross domestic product in the US and Germany were limited to “just” 9.5% and 10.1% respectively. To put those better-than-expected figures into perspective, they were comfortably worse than anything seen in the early 1930s, when a quarter of Americans were unemployed and the Weimar Republic was on its last legs.

There are those who remain cheerful despite all the gloom – and they fall into three groups. The first category comprises those who say there is no link between an ever-expanding economy and wellbeing, and that it is time to de-fetishise growth. There has been an abundance of studies that have charted levels of happiness while GDP has been expanding but now there will be a plethora of data to show whether a smaller economy, lower personal incomes and greater amounts of leisure time (some of it involuntary) will result in more contented, stable societies.

Then there is the group who say the coronavirus has changed everything and that the world will never be the same again. This is, of course, what was said during the global financial crisis of 2008-09 but there is more substance to the claim this time. It is not just that the role of the state has expanded, although that is part of the story. It is also that the whole small state, sound money, globalisation model has been called into question by the pandemic.

Governments, even rightwing governments, have been forced into wartime-like levels of intervention: subsidising wages, providing 100% loan guarantees for businesses, nationalising or taking stakes in key sectors of the economy. To take one example, modern monetary theory – which broadly says that countries that have their own currency can print as much money to cover state spending until inflation starts to get out of hand – has had its devotees for many years but was always treated with disdain by central banks and finance ministries. Now the issue is not so much whether policymakers take MMT seriously but whether they are doing a version of it on the quiet.

All that said, there have been only two seminal shifts in political economy in the past century – in the mid-1940s and in the mid-1970s – and both were long-drawn-out, painful affairs. Inertia in the system means there is no guarantee that the challenge to the status quo will succeed.

Whether it does or not probably depends on whether the third category of cheery optimists are right. This group, wellrepresented in the financial markets, thinks the second-quarter growth figures are of little importance because they were the result of a one-off response to a health emergency that is now over. There was a deep recession when economies were put in full lockdown but recovery began as soon as the restrictions were eased and has been gathering pace ever since. Share prices have recovered a lot of the ground they lost in February and March because many in the City and on Wall Street are convinced that money creation by central banks and higher government spending by finance ministries will result in a V-shaped recovery.

As with the growth-doesn’t-make-you-happy thesis, this notion will be put to the test in the coming months. In the UK, there have been some signals – from retail sales, for example – that the economy is gaining momentum.

These, though, are massively outweighed by factors pointing to a much slower recovery, or even a double-dip recession. For a start, large chunks of the economy – including much of Britain’s night-time economy – remain closed.

Then there is the chaotic handling of the economy by the government, with the prime minister announcing an easing of restrictions one day and reimposing some the next. The chances of catching Covid-19 or dying from the virus are much lower than they were in March or April but you would never know it by the flip-flopping going on in Whitehall. The impression given by ministers is that it will take a very long time for the economy to return to normal, making such an outcome more likely.

It is also unfortunate that the Treasury has chosen this moment – when quarantine restrictions have been imposed on travellers returning from Spain, face masks are being made mandatory for a wider range of activities and restrictions have been tightened across much of the north of England – to start winding down its furlough scheme.

Having made a mess of the health emergency when Covid-19 first surfaced, the government is now making a complete Horlicks of the economic crisis. Who knows, more chaos now could eventually lead to a happier, friendlier Britain later but one thing’s for sure: there will be much misery first.

Why has the UK done so badly on Covid-19? There are still no simple answers 

There are still no simple answers 

David Spiegelhalter www.theguardian.com
At the end of April, which seems an age ago, I wrote an article for the Guardian about the problems of comparing the UK’s Covid-19 mortality rates with those of other countries, and said: “It’s tempting to try to construct a league table, but we’ll have to wait months, if not years, for the true picture.” Three months later, and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has duly obliged with a ranking of countries in Europe, using Eurostat data up to the end of May. The UK comes out on top. But, unlike football or Eurovision, this is not a league table you want to head.

The ONS analysis completely ignores the statistics on coronavirus deaths that we hear about all the time, and instead simply counts the total number of deaths from whatever cause. It then calculates the excess over the average for the past five years, adjusting for each country’s age patterns. Any excess could be due to Covid-19, or the effects of lockdown, or another reason.

When ranking countries according to the accumulated excess mortality since the start of the year England comes top, with nearly 8% extra deaths over the five-year average. Spain is second (7% extra), then Scotland (5%) and Belgium (4%). Wales and Northern Ireland are fifth and eighth respectively. The UK has done badly.

The UK has not, however, experienced the highest temporary peak of excess mortality: in mid-March, Bergamo in Italy had more than nine times the normal number of deaths, which produced the kind of desperate stories that drove the campaign to protect the NHS. The peak major city in Europe was Madrid, over a week in mid-March. A month later, Birmingham had more than three times its normal death rate, and some local areas were even higher: in one week in April, Brent, in north London, had more than four times its normal number of deaths. These statistics disguise what must have been a devastating time for communities.

To those of us who obsess about these things, a small surprise was Belgium having only half the relative excess mortality of England, since the websites that make international comparisons all show it as being the country (ignoring San Marino) with the highest number of coronavirus deaths per million population. But Belgium has been very generous in labelling deaths as down to Covid-19, which has perhaps given it an even poorer record than it deserves.

It is worth noting that the problems of counting Covid-19 deaths are vividly illustrated every day, when the Public Health England dashboard releases a count for the UK; for example, 119 and 83 additional coronavirus deaths were reported last Tuesday and Wednesday. NHS England is currently experiencing fewer than 15 Covid-19 deaths a day in hospitals, but the implausibly high PHE figures for England apparently also include any of the 250,000-plus people who have ever tested positive and have gone on to die of any cause, even if completely unrelated to coronavirus.

The Department of Health and Social Care has suspended these daily figures, but they are still going on all the international sites, and presumably are being used by others to judge how things are developing in the UK. They may be giving an inappropriately negative picture, as the ONS recently reported that the total number of deaths in the UK has shown no overall excess for the past five weeks.

But when we look at where the deaths are happening it is clear that we are not back to normal: people are still staying away from hospitals and dying at home. In England and Wales there were 766 excess deaths that occurred at home in the week ending 17 July, only 29 of which were with coronavirus, whereas in hospitals 862 fewer deaths than normal were registered. So more than 100 deaths a day were happening in people’s homes that would normally happen in hospital – although this is at least a reduction from the peak of the epidemic, when there were 2,000 additional home deaths a week.

Most people would prefer to die at home, but we seem to have no idea about the quality of these deaths, and whether some of them might have been delayed if they had gone to hospital.

Why has the UK done so badly? One hint is given by the interactive map provided by the ONS report, which shows the development of excess mortality at a local level across Europe. We see strong hotspots in northern Italy and central Spain, which stay fairly localised – for example, Rome has seen no excess mortality. But it is genuinely chilling to see these extra deaths erupt fairly evenly across the whole of the UK, as the thousands of people returning from winter holidays in Spain and Italy seeded hundreds of separate outbreaks across the country. The epidemic in the UK was more widespread and went on longer than in other countries, which saw their mortality return to normal levels by May, while the UK’s excess continued well into June.

But as I said previously, it is misguided to try to attribute good or bad performance to individual causes. Sweden has done badly and ranks sixth in the league table, just behind Wales. How much of this is due to its liberal measures, avoiding a strict lockdown? And how much is due to the fact that a huge number of Swedes take winter holidays in Spain and Italy, and returned and set off outbreaks, or that (like the UK) its care homes were not properly protected? There are no simple answers.

My original comments still hold: we will need years to properly assess the effect of the epidemic and the measures taken against it. We’ve now got a league table, but as to why the UK has done so badly, the arguments will go on.

• David Spiegelhalter is chair of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication at Cambridge University. He is the author of The Art of Statistics

Secrecy has harmed UK government’s response to Covid-19 crisis, says top scientist

One of the country’s most senior scientists has criticised government for the “shroud of secrecy” drawn over major decisions in the coronavirus crisis and urged ministers to be more open about the reasons behind their policies.

Sir Paul Nurse, the nobel laureate and director of the Francis Crick Institute in London, said important decisions throughout the pandemic had been made in what appeared to be a “black box” of scientists, civil servants and politicians, and called for more transparency and scrutiny.

The failure to be more open about pivotal decisions, and the basis on which they were reached, meant it had been impossible to challenge emerging policy, he said, a situation that fuelled poor decisions and put public trust at risk.

Nurse’s comments came as other senior researchers raised further concerns about the way expert advice is handled in the UK and how the lack of transparency has allowed ministers to claim their policies are driven by scientific evidence.

Prof Nurse, the former president of the Royal Society and a chief scientific advisor to the European Commission, said: “Decisions are too often shrouded in secrecy. They need challenge and we need processes to ensure that happens. If they are going to keep the trust of the nation, they need to make those discussions more public.”

“It sometimes seems like a ‘black box’ made up of scientists, civil servants and politicians are coming up with the decisions,” Nurse added. “It needs to be more open. We need greater transparency, greater scrutiny and greater challenge to get the best results.”

Nurse’s comments came as:

Government departments have their own chief scientists, but during a crisis the prime minister and his cabinet are advised by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) which has a number of specialist subgroups. Sage is convened by the civil contingencies committee, Cobra, which considers advice from Sage and across government departments. The Sage membership depends on the crisis at hand. During the coronavirus pandemic, it has been roughly half academics and half government employees, including departmental chief scientists and experts from Public Health England, the NHS and the Health and Safety Executive.

Britain’s troubled effort to provide coronavirus testing revealed a number of instances where decisions should have been subjected to more scrutiny, Nurse said. Early on in the outbreak, the government suggested it was doing all the tests needed, yet only a limited number of tests were possible because capacity was so low. “They seemed not to want to admit that they weren’t prepared, that they were unable to do the testing properly, because that would have been an admission of failure from square one,” Nurse said.

Another decision, to build and equip the giant Lighthouse labs from scratch in a bid to scale up testing, resulted in “a total shambles at the height of the pandemic”, Nurse said, because large laboratories take time to set up. “It should have been clear that it would take many months. How was that decision made? It’s completely opaque,” he said.

While Sage has started to publish its minutes and supporting documents some weeks after it meets, Nurse says ministerial decisions, which are often said to be “led by the science”, are not open to the scrutiny.

Beyond the coronavirus crisis, Nurse believes the lack of openness stores up problems for the future. “What worries me is that we have an increasingly technocratic and complex society and we are going to increasingly need complex discussions involving science and the use of science that will impact on policy,” he said.

Prof Chris Higgins, who chaired the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (Seac) after the BSE Inquiry, said ministers would do well to re-read the report. The inquiry criticised ministers, chief medical officers and scientific advisors, after a “campaign of reassurance” left the public in the dark about the potential risks from British beef.

“The government has not learned the lessons outlined in the Phillips review of BSE,” Higgins said. “There should, as Phillips recommended, be a clear-cut separation between those analysing data and assessing risk and those making decisions. This distinction has been lost in the Covid crisis.”

Under Higgins, Seac held its meetings in public and made all its data available. No government advisors sat on the committee but they could observe and ask questions along with the members of the public. The committee’s risk assessments and analyses were shared openly and departments used them for policy making.

Sage works differently. It meets in private and members are asked not to talk about Sage discussions. The co-chairs, Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific advisor, and Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, are government employees, but do not make policy decisions.

Vallance’s and Whitty’s routine appearances on either side of Boris Johnson or one of his ministers lent scientific and medical credibility to the government’s announcements and the claim they were “following the science”, Higgins said. But by blurring the line between scientific advice and policy making, ministers made it easy for responsibility to be shifted to their advisors, he added. “When things go wrong, the government will say it’s not our fault, we did what the scientists told us,” he said.

“I’ve got great respect for Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty but they are being put in an impossibly conflicted position. They are not independent scientists gathering and analysing data. They are government-employed scientists whose job it is to interpret and interrogate the available data and relative risks for the politicians. It is the politicians who must balance the risks and make final decisions and therefore take responsibility.”

“I believe in transparency wherever possible. It keeps people honest and it allows people to see that science is not exact, that there are a lot of unknowns and that you have to make best guesses, and those best guesses will change,” Higgins said. “What I’d like to see is scientists having their discussions in public, and all the data being made available immediately, so people can see for themselves all the information that’s available for ministers to make decisions.”

James Wilsdon, professor of research policy at the University of Sheffield, said that if Vallance and Whitty had gone through the Phillips inquiry, they might have avoided some of the controversies that dogged Sage in the Covid-19 crisis.

“While it may have been politically and presentationally convenient, the unprecedented public prominence given to Vallance and Whitty was storing up problems, as and when the lines between scientific evidence, advice and decision-making became more blurry and contested,” Wilsdon said. “I don’t think Vallance should ever have allowed himself and Sage to be used in this way, or for ‘the science’, as embodied by Sage, to be presented in such a singular, monolithic way.”

New Covid and flu tests give results in 90 minutes

www.bbc.co.uk /news/uk-53632043

New “life-saving” 90-minute tests that can detect coronavirus and flu will be rolled out in care homes and laboratories from next week.

The “on-the-spot” swab and DNA tests will help distinguish between Covid-19 and other seasonal illnesses, the government said.

The health secretary said this would be “hugely beneficial” over the winter.

Currently, three quarters of test results are returned within 24 hours and a quarter can take up to two days.

The announcement comes as the government pushed back a July target to regularly test care home staff and residents, saying the number of testing kits had become more limited.

Almost half a million of the new rapid swab tests will be available from next week in adult care settings and labs, with millions more due to be rolled out later in the year.

Additionally, thousands of DNA test machines, which have already been used in eight London hospitals and can analyse nose swabs, will be rolled out across NHS hospitals from September.

Around 5,000 machines will provide 5.8 million tests in the coming months, the department said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described these latest innovations in coronavirus testing as “life-saving”.

He added: “Millions of new rapid coronavirus tests will provide on-the-spot results in under 90 minutes, helping us to break chains of transmission quickly.

“The fact these tests can detect flu as well as Covid-19 will be hugely beneficial as we head into winter, so patients can follow the right advice to protect themselves and others.”

Presentational grey line

Analysis

By Lauren Moss, health correspondent

There’s been a lot of focus on how long Covid test results can take to come back and the impact that has on halting the spread of the virus.

Overall, three quarters of results are now returned within 24 hours but some can still take up to two days.

The new rapid tests that can analyse swabs in pop up mobile labs and provide results in 90 minutes is hugely significant.

No data on the accuracy of these tests has been made publicly available yet but those behind them say there are controls in place to check for false negatives.

And another major benefit sees the tests able to detect other winter illnesses, such as the flu, so doctors will know whether someone presenting with coronavirus symptoms has the virus or something else.

Presentational grey line

It comes as authorities in Greater Manchester insisted people should not be alarmed by a decision to declare a “major incident” on Sunday evening in response to rising rates of Covid-19 there.

Manchester City Council said the move was to help various agencies work together and draw on extra resources.

Scotland’s national clinical director warned of going “backwards” over easing lockdown after a cluster of coronavirus cases were linked to a pub in Aberdeen.

Meanwhile, Leicester – the first UK city to have a localised lockdown – will see pubs and restaurants reopen from Monday as a number of restrictions are lifted.

And a government scheme to encourage people to visit restaurants, cafes and pubs, customers across the UK has now launched – giving customers of 72,000 establishments 50% off meals bought Monday to Wednesday in August.

Coronavirus tests are currently carried out at drive-through or walk-in sites as well as at hospitals for patients and some NHS workers.

Home test kits can also be delivered to someone’s door so people can test themselves. Swab samples are analysed at a laboratory before the result being passed on to the individual.

Unlike other seasonal illnesses, those infected with Covid-19 are required to self-isolate for 10 days.

‘Highly accurate’

Prof Chris Toumazou, co-founder of DnaNudge, which supplied the machines providing the tests, said the “rapid” and “highly accurate” Covid-19 test can be deployed anywhere “with a direct sample-to-result”.

Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, which supplied the tests, said they have the potential to provide an “accessible global testing solution”.

Regular testing of care home residents and staff was meant to have started on 6 July but officials said this might not be in place until the end of the first week of September.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “A combination of factors have meant that a more limited number of testing kits, predominantly used in care homes, are currently available for asymptomatic re-testing and we are working round the clock with providers to restore capacity.”

Last month, the government withdrew one brand of home-testing kits used in care homes over safety concerns.

Pay rise for teachers will halve school funding boost in England

Exclusive: analysis reveals pay award will come out of promised extra cash for state schools

Richard Adams www.theguardian.com 

School budgets will be less than 2% better off next year after it was revealed that the government’s pay increases for teachers will absorb more than half of the extra funding promised for state schools in England.

Analysis by the House of Commons library for the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran calculated that the pay award announced by the government last month would come entirely from school budgets, eating into the funding boost announced for 2020-21 onwards.

The extra billions for school funding promised in the pre-election spending round will shrink to just £1.7bn in 2020-21 after accounting for the pay rise. Compared with 2019-20, that means the school budget increase from the Department for Education (DfE) will slow from 5.1% to just 1.9% in real terms.

The Commons researchers said the funding figures also do not include the additional costs that schools face as a result of Covid-19, such as intensive cleaning and remodelling, nor the extra costs of providing free school meals during the summer holidays.

Moran, the Lib Dem education spokesperson and a contender for the party’s leadership, said: “Our teachers have gone through the most tumultuous times in their careers because of Covid-19, and they deserve a pay rise. But the government’s failure to budget for this increase means many schools risk being left short-changed.

“Boris Johnson claims getting children back into school is a national priority. He must now ensure schools have the resources they need to cope with the pressures caused by coronavirus and ensure no child is left behind.”

The researchers said the DfE’s schools budget increased from £44bn in 2019-20, to £47bn in 2020-21, including additional funding for pensions, for an overall increase of 5.1% in real terms.

However, last month the government said teachers’ salaries would rise by 3% overall next year, including a 5.5% bump for new teachers. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the pay rises would be funded from existing budgets, in effect cutting the net increase to £1.7bn, or just 1.9% in real terms.

“This indicates that in both cash and real terms, the teacher pay increases will not erode all of the announced increases in school funding. However this will vary greatly between different schools depending on their individual circumstances,” the researchers stated.

They also noted that the figures do not include “increases in pupil numbers or other cost pressures schools may face,” such as extra cleaning to limit the spread of Covid 19, or the additional £1bn catch-up tutoring and support fund announced in June.

Jules White, the leader of the Worth Less? Group of headteachers lobbying for better school funding, said many had feared the promised increases in school funding would not be as significant as the original headlines suggested.

“We are already operating on a shoestring and it would be disastrous if the promised ‘levelling up’ and improvements to school budgets turned out to be little more than a mirage,” White said.

Paul Whiteman, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “This means an anxious summer for school leaders as they decide what they have to cut to afford pay increases for their staff – or if they even need to lose some people to pay the rest more. A summer of stress and difficult decisions is no reward after months of going above and beyond during the pandemic.”

A DfE spokesperson said: “We want to make teaching attractive to the most talented candidates by recognising the outstanding contribution teachers make to our society. This is why we are introducing the biggest pay rise the profession has seen since 2005, with above-inflation rises to the pay ranges for every single teacher in the country.

“We are increasing core schools funding by £2.6bn in 2020-21, rising to a £7.1bn increase in 2022-23 compared with 2019-20. This is part of our three-year £14bn funding settlement to level up education funding and opportunity across the country.”

3/5 consumers used more local shops to support them during lockdown

“With people increasingly supporting their local area, businesses that have a strong understanding of the community will be the most likely to recover well and thrive in the coming months.”

www.retailgazette.co.uk 


Almost three in five consumers have used more local stores and services to help support them during the coronavirus lockdown, according to new research.

Analysis from Deloitte Digital that focuses on the impact of the pandemic on customer experience showed that 59 per cent of consumers used more local convenience stores that remained open during the lockdown.

In addition, 57 per cent of consumers say they will be more likely to spend money at a shop that offers locally-produced products once the lockdown has lifted than they would have done before the stay-at-home order was imposed.

Deloitte’s research, analysing responses from 2140 consumers aged 16 and over in Great Britain between May 22-26, also found that 20 per cent consumers have stopped using a business due to their response to Covid-19.

Just over a quarter – 28 per cent – of consumers between ages 16-24 say they have stopped using a shop for this reason, for instance that has refused to prioritise front-line workers or failed to ensure the safety of their employees.

Meanwhile, 19 per cent of all respondents say they have started using a shop as a result of their response, such as one that has prioritised front-line workers or quickly introduced measures to keep their employees safe.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged brands to demonstrate their commitment to upholding the health and wellbeing of both their staff and their customers, while continuing to deliver products and services as safely and seamlessly as possible,” Deloitte Digital chief marketing officer Becky Skiles said.

“Those that have done this well are seeing real benefits in terms of customer loyalty.

“Younger consumers in particular are prepared to stand by the brands that demonstrate the positive impact they bring to society and abandon those who do not.

“For brands to build loyalty, the positive contribution they are bringing to employees and communities must be as clearly communicated as their product offering.”

Deloitte’s research also indicates that almost half – 46 per cent – of consumers say they are more likely to spend money at a shop that supports local charities, such as food banks, once the lockdown has lifted.

In comparison, 25 per cent of consumers say they are more likely to spend money at a shop with a large national presence and just seven per cent say they would be more likely to use a shop that has a large global presence.

Meanwhile, 62 per cent of consumers are more likely to spend money at a shop that takes extra steps to ensure the safety and well-being of their employees once the majority of lockdown restrictions have lifted.

“Consumers may have begun shopping locally out of necessity rather than choice, however they are rediscovering their local shop as a place for human contact and personal service when they need it most,” Deloitte Digital director Deborah Womack said.

“With people increasingly supporting their local area, businesses that have a strong understanding of the community will be the most likely to recover well and thrive in the coming months.”