Dominic Cummings defends contract award after High Court ‘bias’ complaint

Brian Farmer, PA
·2-min read

Dominic Cummings has defended the awarding of a government focus group and communications support services contract after campaigners took legal action, complaining of “apparent bias”.

The Good Law Project has begun a High Court fight with the Cabinet Office after complaining that the contract was given to a company with links to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former senior aide, following the start of the coronavirus crisis, nearly a year ago.

A barrister representing the Good Law Project, which says it uses the law to protect the interests of the public, told a judge on Monday that Public First was awarded the contract because that was what Mr Cummings wanted.

“Public First was awarded this contract because Dominic Cummings wanted Public First to have this contract,” Jason Coppel QC told Mrs Justice O’Farrell at a virtual High Court hearing.

“No other provider was considered.”

He said more than £500,000 had been spent and told the judge that it was “not strictly necessary” to award the contract to Public First without competition.

Ministers are fighting the claim, and Mr Cummings defended the choice of Public First in a written witness statement prepared for the litigation and seen by the judge.

“I was the Prime Minister’s main political adviser from July 2019 until November 2020,” said Mr Cummings.

“Because of Covid in 2020, this role involved issues of management and procurement far more than it did political advice.

“A big part of my job was solving Whitehall problems — in particular trying to eliminate obstacles and to get the right people into the right roles and the right meetings.”

Mr Cummings said he is friends with people involved with Public First, including director James Frayne.

But he added that he had not met Mr Frayne since 2016.

“James Frayne and I worked on the Euro campaign 20 years ago, other political issues, and set up the campaign to fight the proposed formation of a regional assembly in north-east England in 2004,” he said.

“I have talked to them extensively about focus groups and public opinion over many years.

“I knew from my experience that Public First were very good at running focus groups and that its key staff had thought extensively about how people who usually ignore most news and political communication think and might be influenced.

“I knew that I could rely on them to make an extra effort, beyond what they were paid to do.

“I knew they would give us honest information, unlike many companies in this sector.

“Very few companies in this field are competent, almost none are very competent, honest and reliable.”