RISHI Sunak has been accused of spending taxpayer money on focus groups in an effort to “repair his image”.
According to the Labour party, new Treasury contracts reveal that researchers have been hired to conduct two focus groups, along with one online national pool each week until February of 2023, at a total two-year outlay of over £1.35 million.
These new contracts, argued Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, were awarded after Sunak “told the British people he had no money to ease the cost-of-living crisis, and that cutting their energy bills would be ‘silly.’
Rayner added: “The government apparently has half a million to spend on spin doctors while Jacob Rees-Mogg is threatening to axe thousands of civil service jobs in the name of cost-saving.
“At the start of the pandemic, the Treasury justified their spending on focus groups and polls as an emergency measure to test the impact of different policy options. But now this is little more than a taxpayer-funded vanity exercise for a chancellor desperate to repair his image.”
Several previous contracts – including one worth £81,600 and given to Hanbury Strategy, founded by former prime minister David Cameron’s ex-director of strategy – were necessary to inform governmental decisions following the advent of Covid-19, it was claimed.
However, a new £500,000 contract with Deltapoll – described as being merely for the “provision of public opinion focus groups and online polling” – does not mention the pandemic in its purview, Labour have argued.
The Treasury has denied that the contracts are linked to any attempt to improve the chancellor’s public image.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Treasury conducts regular polling to help develop and measure the impact and understanding of its policies. All polling is subject to the usual tender process, ensuring the best value for taxpayers’ money.”
In April, a survey conducted by the Conservative Home website found that Sunak’s popularity ranked at the bottom amongst senior cabinet ministers with a net satisfaction rating of -5.2. This followed mounting criticism of his failure to do more in combating the cost-of-living crisis, as well as escalating controversy over the ‘non-domiciled’ tax status of his wife Akshata Murthy, which freed her from paying tax in the UK on her earnings abroad, and which she subsequently gave up.
Along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the chancellor was fined in April by the Metropolitan Police for attending a birthday gathering at No 10 Downing Street during the first national lockdown of the pandemic.
Such developments represent a sharp reversal in fortunate for Sunak, who was once widely regarded as a likely heir to Johnson, and along with his wife Akshata Murty was this week named on the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time, with a joint fortune of £730 million.