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Chancellor Rishi Sunak will spend £500,000 of taxpayer’s money on public opinion focus groups and online polling, according to new Treasury contracts.
Under the terms of the contract, awarded to Deltapoll, researchers will run two focus groups and one online poll every week until February 2023.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused Mr Sunak of attempting to “rebrand his image”, though the Treasury denied the polling would seek to enhance the Chancellor’s personal reputation as decisions on whether to award contracts were taken by Whitehall officials.
“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,” Ms Rayner said.
“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.”
Labour claimed the contract would take the total Treasury spending on private focus groups and opinion polls to more than £1.35 million since June 2020.
A series of contracts were handed out to PR firm Hanbury Strategy in 2020 to inform policymaking during the pandemic - though the Deltapoll contract makes no mention of Covid, Labour said.
A Treasury spokesperson told the Standard: “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.”
Mr Sunak’s popularity has plummeted since reports emerged last month that his wife Akshata Murty holds non-domiciled status, allowing her to reduce her UK tax bill.
It was estimated Ms Murty’s non-dom status could have saved her £20 million in taxes on dividends from her shares in Infosys, an Indian IT company founded by her father.
He had been seen as a frontrunner in any leadership contest to replace Boris Johnson but his standing was severely dented by the scrutiny of Ms Murty’s tax affairs. He has also faced criticism for failing to pledge further support for families affected by soaring energy bills, food prices and inflation.
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty were on Friday confirmed to have entered the Sunday Times Rich List for the first time with their joint £730 million fortune.