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AI firm that worked with Vote Leave awarded contract to help Britain deal with COVID-19

Published on 02/06/20 at 12:01pm
Photo © Oast House Archive (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The AI company Faculty, who worked on the Vote Leave campaign, have been awarded a £400,000 contract by the government to help them deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Faculty is linked to numerous members of the current government, and has been awarded nine contracts in the last two years which are worth at least £1.6m.

The company was awarded its latest contract last month by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government but exact details of this deal are partly redacted. It is assumed the company will analyse social media data, utility bills and credit scores to help inform the government offices dealing with COVID-19. Other firms were not given an opportunity to make a competing bid for the government’s contract.

There is concern over the hiring of Faculty for the government’s analysis of private data in the response to the pandemic. Cori Crider, the director of the technology campaign group Foxglove, said on the Faculty’s contract that: “We haven’t seen the contracts, we haven’t seen the data sharing agreements. We don’t know what they’re permitted to do with the data.”

One of Faculty’s shareholders is the Cabinet Office minister Lord Agnew who owns £90,000 of the company’s shares, and has not sold his stock despite calls to do so, due to his role overseeing the Government Digital Service. Dominic Cummings, the Chief Executive of the Vote Leave campaign and Boris Johnson’s Chief Adviser also recruited one of Faculty’s data scientists, Ben Warner, to work in Downing Street.

Faculty has been awarded two other contracts for COVID-19 work, which has prompted questions over a conflict of interest between government members involved in the company and their duty to the country.

Conor Kavanagh

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