PR companies bidding for UK Covid inquiry threat ‘farcical battle of curiosity’ | Well being

PR giants that acquired hefty authorities contracts to run Covid-19 public well being campaigns at the moment are bidding to guide an inquiry into the general public’s expertise of the pandemic response, the Guardian has discovered.

The Listening Mission was introduced earlier this yr as a proper a part of the Covid-19 inquiry, which can “study the UK’s preparedness and response to the pandemic and be taught classes for the long run”.

A spokesperson for the group Covid-19 Bereaved Households for Justice mentioned the contract risked being “one other instance of these in energy with the ability to mark their very own homework”.

However the contract for the work, estimated to be round £1m, will solely be awarded to considered one of 12 companies on a pre-approved authorities checklist, lots of whom additionally undertook work for the federal government in the course of the pandemic. One trade veteran who contacted the Guardian referred to as it a “ludicrous, farcical battle of pursuits”.

The Listening Mission, which is because of launch in mid-November, was introduced by the inquiry’s chair, Heather Hallett, and designed for the bereaved to have the ability to discuss in regards to the lack of their family members, their grief and the impact on their psychological well being.

It’s meant to tell the inquiry’s understanding about how the pandemic has affected folks “in a much less formal setting than a public listening to”.

However a big variety of the companies on the pre-approved checklist have been concerned in key authorities communications campaigns. London-based company MullenLowe was awarded a collection of contracts by the Cupboard Workplace in August 2020 to supply “Covid-19 consciousness campaigns” – together with the creation of the “Palms, face, area” slogan and later the emotive “Look into my eyes” marketing campaign, which requested folks to rethink their rule-breaking.

In addition to MullenLowe, PR companies Engine and 23red have been additionally contracted for work within the Covid-19 comms hub within the Cupboard Workplace. That hub additionally developed hand hygiene communication, the “Keep at house” slogan and the next “Keep alert” messaging, which drew widespread criticism.

One other agency on the checklist, Freuds, was awarded a contract to supply “strategic communications”, together with “status administration”, for the beleaguered coronavirus Check and Hint system – with out a tender course of.

Accenture, the mother or father firm of Accenture Track, one other company on the checklist, acquired long-term contracts for software program providers and enterprise assist for NHS Check and Hint. FCB Inferno gained the contract for the House Workplace marketing campaign to encourage victims of home abuse to hunt assist throughout lockdown restrictions.

M&C Saatchi obtained a contract in the course of the pandemic for Public Well being England’s “Higher well being” marketing campaign on grownup weight problems, which described the advantages of weight reduction in more healthy outcomes for Covid-19.

One other agency on the checklist, Limitless and Pablo, has just lately been appointed by the Cupboard Workplace Authorities Communication Service as a standby company – in impact, the “go-to” company for the Cupboard Workplace, although it didn’t run any of the large Covid-19 communications campaigns.

The federal government invitations companies to use for the contract, reasonably than vice versa, and there stays potential for the contract to be awarded to a agency that was not concerned in Covid-19 or NHS communications after the deadline this Friday.

The brand new contract for the inquiry work says that the Listening Mission “can even exhibit to the nation that we’re ‘listening’ to what the nation needs to inform us, serving to to keep up belief and confidence within the inquiry and its findings”.

It says it ought to be “balancing the necessity to ‘hear’ to as many individuals as potential, whereas being proportional in its supply to make sure worth for cash for the taxpayer and to the inquiry”.

The contract additionally says whichever agency takes on the work ought to guarantee “excessive proprietary requirements are in place which don’t impede the supply of the inquiry’s authorized processes”.

A spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Households for Justice mentioned: “That is extremely disappointing. The truth that Woman Hallet is leaving bereaved households out within the chilly and having their tales gathered by a 3rd social gathering is unhealthy sufficient … The potential battle of curiosity is obvious as day and it seems like one more instance of these in energy being allowed to mark their very own homework.

“Hallet herself has acknowledged that for the inquiry to be taught classes that stop the monumental scale of each day deaths we noticed from ever occurring once more, the bereaved have to be at its coronary heart.

“The inquiry must urgently come ahead and clarify how they will contain us. To this point they’ve rejected our suggestions and instructed us subsequent to nothing about what their plans are.”

A spokesperson for the inquiry mentioned: “The UK Covid-19 Inquiry is totally impartial of the federal government.

“The listening train procurement is being carried out utilizing a Crown Industrial Service framework to make sure worth for cash to the taxpayer. The contract might be awarded according to strong procurement and transparency laws.

“The inquiry has strong processes in place to cope with conflicts of curiosity.

“A separate agency might be procured to analyse the information collected from the listening train.

“The inquiry might be investigating the way in which that the federal government communicated with the general public – that is a part of the inquiry’s phrases of reference, which set the scope for the inquiry.”

A Cupboard Workplace supply mentioned: “All bidders are required to declare any potential conflicts of curiosity as a part of commonplace due diligence required underneath procurement guidelines.

“These might be investigated as soon as the bidding course of closes. The inquiry will make the ultimate determination as to which provider to nominate.”

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