Rishi Sunak is spending an extra £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on focus groups and polls, new Treasury contracts reveal, sparking a claim he is trying to ‘fix his image’.
Researchers have been hired to carry out two focus groups and a national online poll every week until February 2023 – bringing the total expenditure over two years to more than £1.35million, Labor said .
Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader, said the Chancellor had gone from testing public opinion on the Covid pandemic to making such spending “a permanent fixture”.
The new contracts were awarded after Mr Sunak ‘told Britons he had no money to ease the cost of living crisis and that cutting their energy bills would be ‘stupid’,’ said she alleged.
“The government apparently has half a million to spend on spin-docs while Jacob Rees-Mogg threatens to cut thousands of civil service jobs in the name of cost cutting,” Ms Rayner said.
“At the start of the pandemic, the Treasury justified its spending on focus groups and polls as an emergency measure to test the impact of different policy options. But now it is little more than a taxpayer-funded vanity exercise for a Chancellor desperate to fix his image.
There was controversy when the first contract, worth £81,600, went to a Tory-run PR firm called Hanbury Strategy, founded by David Cameron’s former chief strategy officer.
The government said the aim was “to inform policy decisions and immediate communications”, following the 2020 Covid strike.
Two further contracts worth £205,680 and £552,862 were awarded to Hanbury in August and December 2020, again to test public opinion on the Treasury’s response to the lingering crisis.
But a new £500,000 contract with Deltapoll, described as being for the “provision of public opinion focus groups and online polls”, makes no mention of the pandemic, Labor has pointed out.
The Treasury denied the expenditure was an attempt to improve the Chancellor’s public image and suggested the cost may not reach the full £500,000.
A spokesperson said: ‘The Treasury conducts regular surveys to help develop and measure the impact and understanding of its policies. All surveys go through the usual competitive bidding process, ensuring the best value for taxpayer dollars.
The row comes as Mr Sunak is locked in a battle with Boris Johnson over whether to impose a windfall tax on the excess profits of energy companies – a major reversal which the Chancellor would welcome.
He is also under pressure from the Tory right to propose planned income tax cuts for 2024 – an idea former Chancellor Ken Clarke has dismissed as grossly misguided.
After a disastrous few months, marked by the failure of his spring declaration to deal with the cost of living crisis as well as the revelation of his wife’s non-dom status, Mr Sunak’s fortunes have collapsed.
He has gone from being heir apparent to Mr Johnson to languishing in the polls of grassroots Tory members, boosting the Prime Minister’s chances of surviving the Partygate scandal.