Government gave Covid contract to firm co-founded by Tory pollster

A political consultancy co-founded by the pollster who headed the Conservative party’s general election campaign was given a contract by the government without a competitive tender during the pandemic.

Another example of the “Chumocracy” in action? – Owl

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

Fleetwood Strategy, which was co-founded this year by Isaac Levido, was given the £124,000 contract by the Cabinet Office in April. The 37-year-old has been credited with playing a large part in securing Boris Johnson his landslide victory.

The government has been accused of giving contracts to companies with links to the Conservative party during the pandemic, drawing criticisms that it has created a “chumocracy”.

The government has also been accused of being unnecessarily secretive after refusing to say which companies have been awarded multi-million-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections.

Official guidelines stipulate that government contracts should be published 30 days after being awarded. But details of the contract given to Fleetwood were only published on a government website on Friday, six months later than they should have been.

In addition, the Cabinet Office delayed responding to a freedom of information request by the Guardian for a list of contracts that it has given to Fleetwood, claiming that publishing the information could damage commercial interests.

The Cabinet Office has published only a brief description of its two-month contract with Fleetwood, saying it is for “research into government communications for Covid-19 updates”.

It disclosed that other firms had been unable to bid for the contract before it was given to Fleetwood as it was not advertised.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Levido, an Australian, was recruited by Downing Street to help run its communications strategy to combat coronavirus.

During the general election last year, he had headed the campaign from a desk in Tory party headquarters. When the size of the Conservative election victory became clear, others in the office began singing “Oh Isaac Levido” to the tune of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army in tribute to him.

Sitting next to him during the campaign was Michael Brooks, a pollster. In January, Levido and Brooks set up Fleetwood, claiming they had a proven track record at the highest levels of political campaigning, media, opinion polling and other spheres.

Levido had worked on the two previous Conservative general election campaigns, alongside Lynton Crosby, the political strategist who had run them.

According to official records filed at Companies House, Levido stepped down as a director of Fleetwood Strategy in April, but rejoined in July.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We want to make sure that people have the information they need to keep themselves safe and take advantage of all the government support available to them. This kind of research helps us do this by making our messages and communications more effective.

“In times of national emergency government procurement guidelines allow for direct awards for urgent requirements. These contracts are subject to all the usual transparency requirements.”

A Fleetwood Strategy spokesperson said its team conducted and analysed public opinion research.

“We work with organisations around the world and are proud to have been able to provide assistance to the UK government as it dealt with the Covid-19 crisis.”

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