In Brief

Tory-linked PR firm handed £3m government contract without tender

Company behind controversial factcheckUK election stunt given lucrative deal uncontested under emergency Covid-19 rules

A PR firm that masterminded two widely criticised Tory election campaign stunts has been handed a £3m contract by the government without a competitive tender, according to reports.

Topham Guerin, which specialise in producing images and videos for social media, was given the deal to work on coronavirus public health messaging shortly before the UK lockdown began in March, an investigation by The Guardian and openDemocracy has revealed.

”Under emergency Covid-19 regulations that allow the government to ditch usual competitive tendering practices, no tender was conducted to allow other companies to bid for that work,” the newspaper reports.

Founded in 2016 by young New Zealanders Sean Topham and Ben Guerin, Topham Guerin was at the centre of a political row last year after rebranding the Conservative Party’s official Twitter account as “factcheckUK” during a televised leaders’ debate, and setting up a website presented as Labour’s manifesto.

A six-month contract for the PR firm’s current work for the government was formalised on 7 May, with a retrospective 17 March start date.

The £3m deal requires members of the company “to attend daily meetings at Downing Street or the Cabinet Office and lead the branding strategy and produce social media content”, the London Economic reports.

“And while the current contract runs until 16 September, it is understood that the Cabinet Office is already negotiating with them to send more work their way,” the news site adds.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister Rachel Reeves has criticised the decision to award the contract without a tender. “Given the huge importance of communications during a deadly pandemic, work of this magnitude must surely be undertaken by long-standing, proven expertise in public health communications,” she said.

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