Families bereaved in Covid-19 crisis are being put off the inquiry into it by Tory-linked PR firm

Conflict of interest: why would companies that helped run the government’s publicity campaign about Covid-19 ever want to contact people who lost loved ones because of failures in that campaign?

People who lost loved ones while the Covid-19 pandemic raged through the UK are being put off contributing to the inquiry into what happened – because a PR firm that was hired to manage the government’s response to the crisis has been hired to help run it.

23Red, which worked on government messaging including hand hygiene advice and the “Stay at home” slogan, has been sub-contracted by the Tories’ favourite advertising firm, M&C Saatchi, to run part of the Covid inquiry’s “listening exercise”.

Apparently its role will be to “help the inquiry reach those most affected by the pandemic, so that they can share their experiences”.

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group has pointed out the flaw in that argument: because 23Red worked for the government in its efforts to control Covid-19, the group says, it will either screen out people with the most harmful stories to tell, or those who were most affected will be put off participating.

In the Guardian report (link above), group spokesperson Susie Flintham is quoted as saying:

The fact is ‘many of those worst affected’ will question 23red’s motivations and integrity, and won’t feel comfortable engaging with a process they’re involved in.

“The fact that these PR companies have rebranded the listening exercise ‘every story matters’, suggests they don’t have a clue on how to reach those ‘most affected’.”

“Why is the inquiry paying a hefty sum of taxpayers money, during a cost of living crisis, to a company whose involvement will put people off participating in it? It feels self defeating and like a clear waste of resources.

“If the inquiry is serious about listening to those worst affected by the pandemic then it must give them a meaningful voice, which at the very least means allowing them to speak at each day of the hearings.”

The group’s concerns were raised at the inquiry by their counsel, Pete Weatherby KC, after reporting on the matter by the website Open Democracy:

The correct response to these concerns is to remove the companies from any involvement in the inquiry.

That has not happened.

Instead, the team carrying out the inquiry has said that no conflict of interest will arise because “M&C Saatchi and 23red do not have a decision making role with the inquiry, and they have no direct access to the inquiry’s legal team or the wider work of the inquiry.

“Additionally, M&C Saatchi and 23red will not be carrying out any of the listening or have any access to the experiences shared with the inquiry’s listening exercise. Their role is only to help the inquiry reach those most affected by the pandemic, so that they can share their experiences.”

I’m not convinced. You should not be convinced either.

In an inquiry that exists to collect the strongest evidence of the worst effects of the government’s response (or lack of it) to the Covid-19 pandemic, efforts to seek out the most important stories are paramount.

Yet the inquiry team has hired companies that were intimately linked with the government’s public relations campaign during that time – Boris Johnson’s efforts to play down the seriousness of the situation and to pretend that Tory policies were succeeding when they weren’t.

More than 200,000 people have died of Covid-19 – and most of those deaths could have been avoided if Johnson, Matt Hancock and their cronies had acted more quickly and in a more responsible way (rather than diverting vast amounts of money to hastily-set-up companies run by their friends, for equipment that did not work, for example).

And the number of deaths is still increasing, as I understand it.

It is not in the interests of these companies to seek out the most damning stories of government failures when they were responsible for even part of the government’s publicity campaigning.

I fear the Covid-19 inquiry is just another Tory sham.

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  1. Peter David Hirons February 17, 2023 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Yet another example of Tory corruption – conflict of interest? You wouldn’t notice!

  2. Hecuba February 18, 2023 at 11:18 am - Reply

    A government is supposedly one comprising elected women and men who work for the people who elected them but as usual the greedy corrupt and rotten fascist tories are only interested in hiding their corporate accountability!

    The arrogance of this fascist tory fake government is astounding!!! They are using our money – yes our money to hide their criminal acts and hiring a public relations corporate company to manage/contain/curtail the supposedly ‘Covid Enquiry’ is a slap in the face to all the women, children and men who lost loved ones during the Coronavirus pandemic.

    The enquiry is not a soap opera wherein the actors all relate their ‘every story matters!’ It is supposedly an independent enquiry investigating allegations of fascist tory corruption and greed wherein our public money was stolen by the fascist tories and given to their greedy bros! And not forgetting over 200,000 women, children and men died needlessly during the coronavirus pandemic because the fascist tories didn’t care – their sole focus was ‘how much money can we steal from the public purse?’

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