Treasury criticised for agreeing £500k spend on focus groups and polls

<span>Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Treasury bosses have been criticised for authorising £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to be spent on focus groups and polls amid the cost of living crisis.

Deltapoll, an independent public opinion consultancy firm, was selected to carry out the work with an option to extend the contract for another year which would take the potential total cost to £1m.

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Labour said it was “simply staggering” the department had given the green light to “little more than a taxpayer-funded vanity exercise”.

Procurement documents published by the government show that the contract states the researchers are expected to carry out twice-weekly focus groups and weekly online polling over a 12-month period, ending in February 2023.

They should also produce “in-depth reports” on their findings, including analysis, on a monthly basis.

A Treasury source insisted the research was policy-focused rather than seeking feedback on Rishi Sunak’s personal profile.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “At a time when Rishi Sunak has told the British people he has no money to ease the cost of living crisis, and that cutting their energy bills would be ‘silly’, it is simply staggering that he has ordered half a million more of taxpayers’ money to be spent on private focus groups and opinion polls.

“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, throwing working people under the bus once again.

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“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.

“He should not need to spend a small fortune on focus groups to hear what the British public are telling him: they want serious action to help with the cost of living crisis, starting with the adoption of Labour’s plan for a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas to fund cuts in energy bills.”

While the contract runs until February next year, the award letter states that it can be extended by a further 12 months.

A spokesperson for the Treasury 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.”

On Friday, it emerged that Sunak has become the first frontline politician to be ranked among the UK’s wealthiest people.

The former hedge fund manager and his Indian heiress wife, Akshata Murty, were named in the Sunday Times rich list as the 222nd wealthiest people in the UK, with a combined £730m fortune.

It came days after the chancellor warned consumers that “the next few months will be tough” as the cost of living crisis intensifies.

Last July, Boris Johnson’s government was accused of “abusing” taxpayers’ cash after it emerged public funds were used to conduct polling on opposition politicians.

Documents released by the Good Law Project, a campaign organisation, showed there were “questions asked” about Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Labour London mayor Sadiq Khan.

The documents, which included emails, said the questions allowed the Conservatives to assess the “credibility” of its own spokespeople against other political figures.