PR giants that obtained hefty authorities contracts to run Covid-19 public well being campaigns are actually bidding to steer an inquiry into the general public’s expertise of the pandemic response, the Guardian has discovered.
The Listening Mission was introduced earlier this 12 months as a proper a part of the Covid-19 inquiry, which is able to “study the UK’s preparedness and response to the pandemic and be taught classes for the long run”.
A spokesperson for the group Covid-19 Bereaved Households for Justice stated the contract risked being “one other instance of these in energy with the ability to mark their very own homework”.
However the contract for the work, estimated to be round £1m, will solely be awarded to one in all 12 companies on a pre-approved authorities checklist, a lot of whom additionally undertook work for the federal government through the pandemic. One trade veteran who contacted the Guardian referred to as it a “ludicrous, farcical battle of pursuits”.
The Listening Mission, which is because of launch in mid-November, was introduced by the inquiry’s chair, Heather Hallett, and designed for the bereaved to have the ability to speak in regards to the lack of their family members, their grief and the impact on their psychological well being.
It’s supposed to tell the inquiry’s understanding about how the pandemic has affected folks “in a much less formal setting than a public listening to”.
However a big variety of the companies on the pre-approved checklist had been concerned in key authorities communications campaigns. London-based company MullenLowe was awarded a sequence of contracts by the Cupboard Workplace in August 2020 to offer “Covid-19 consciousness campaigns” – together with the creation of the “Arms, face, area” slogan and later the emotive “Look into my eyes” marketing campaign, which requested folks to rethink their rule-breaking.
In addition to MullenLowe, PR businesses Engine and 23red had been additionally contracted for work within the Covid-19 comms hub within the Cupboard Workplace. That hub additionally developed hand hygiene communication, the “Keep at house” slogan and the next “Keep alert” messaging, which drew widespread criticism.
One other agency on the checklist, Freuds, was awarded a contract to offer “strategic communications”, together with “status administration”, for the beleaguered coronavirus Check and Hint system – and not using a tender course of.
Accenture, the guardian firm of Accenture Music, one other company on the checklist, acquired long-term contracts for software program companies and enterprise assist for Check and Hint. FCB Inferno received the contract for the House Workplace marketing campaign to encourage victims of home abuse to hunt assist throughout lockdown restrictions.
M&C Saatchi obtained a contract through the pandemic for Public Well being England’s “Higher well being” marketing campaign on grownup weight problems, which described the advantages of weight reduction in more healthy outcomes for Covid-19.
One other agency on the checklist, Limitless and Pablo, has lately been appointed by the Cupboard Workplace Authorities Communication Service as a standby company – in impact, the “go-to” company for the Cupboard Workplace, although it didn’t run any of the large Covid-19 communications campaigns.
The federal government invitations companies to use for the contract, quite than vice versa, and there stays potential for the contract to be awarded to a agency that was not concerned in Covid-19 or NHS communications after the deadline this Friday.
The brand new contract for the inquiry work says that the Listening Mission “may even exhibit to the nation that we’re ‘listening’ to what the nation needs to inform us, serving to to keep up belief and confidence within the inquiry and its findings”.
It says it ought to be “balancing the necessity to ‘hear’ to as many individuals as attainable, whereas being proportional in its supply to make sure worth for cash for the taxpayer and to the inquiry”.
The contract additionally says whichever agency takes on the work ought to guarantee “excessive proprietary requirements are in place which don’t impede the supply of the inquiry’s authorized processes”.
A spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Households for Justice stated: “That is extremely disappointing. The truth that Girl Hallet is leaving bereaved households out within the chilly and having their tales gathered by a 3rd social gathering is dangerous sufficient … The potential battle of curiosity is evident as day and it seems like one more instance of these in energy being allowed to mark their very own homework.
“Hallet herself has acknowledged that for the inquiry to be taught classes that forestall the monumental scale of every day deaths we noticed from ever occurring once more, the bereaved should be at its coronary heart.
“The inquiry must urgently come ahead and clarify how they’re going to contain us. To date they’ve rejected our suggestions and instructed us subsequent to nothing about what their plans are.”
A spokesperson for the inquiry stated: “The UK Covid-19 Inquiry is totally unbiased of the federal government.
“The listening train procurement is being performed utilizing a Crown Industrial Service framework to make sure worth for cash to the taxpayer. The contract will probably be awarded in keeping with strong procurement and transparency laws.
“The inquiry has strong processes in place to take care of conflicts of curiosity.
“A separate agency will probably be procured to analyse the information collected from the listening train.
“The inquiry will probably be investigating the way in which that the federal government communicated with the general public – that is a part of the inquiry’s phrases of reference, which set the scope for the inquiry.”
A Cupboard Workplace supply stated all bidders had been required to declare any potential conflicts of curiosity as a part of normal due diligence required beneath procurement guidelines. The companies will probably be investigated as soon as the bidding course of closes and the inquiry will make the ultimate resolution as to which provider to nominate.