Michael Gove has denied allegations of a misuse of public funds from a coronavirus contract used to carry out opinion polling on Scottish independence.
An unlawfully awarded £560,000 contract was given to the firm Public First to gauge people’s opinions on Brexit issues, rebuilding the economy following the pandemic and attitudes towards the union.
Last month, the High Court ruled that the use of the money was “unlawful” as it “gave rise to an apparent bias” due to its links with former colleagues of Dominic Cummings and Gove.
But during a visit to Aberdeen on Monday, Gove, the cabinet secretary, insisted that it had been “the right decision” to award the money for polling – but denied signing off on it.
“The award of the contract wasn’t made by me,” Gove said, although he later stressed that the court had concluded the procurement process was “perfectly legitimate”.
He said: “The UK Government [was] concentrating on making sure that we could make the best possible case across the United Kingdom on how we could deal with the Covid pandemic.”
Asked whether any other public money had been used for political research, Gove replied: “We don’t use taxpayer funds for party political polling.
“It is the case that the Scottish Government has done some polling in respect of attitudes towards the Scottish Government and the UK Government during the handling of the pandemic.
“As far as I know that was completely within the rules for them, our concentration has been on making sure that we can get an effective public health message and that was the aim behind the investment that we’ve made.”
Ahead of Gove’s visit to Scotland today, the SNP’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, issued a list of ten questions for Gove and said: “Boris Johnson’s Tory government is stumbling from one scandal to the next.
“Johnson’s premiership is driven by rampant cronyism and sleaze.
“Revelations that Tory ministers directed emergency Covid contracts and public funds for their own political campaigning and gain are utterly damning.
“Despite the Government’s best attempts to play this down, the reality is that this scandal will not disappear. There are very serious questions for the Prime Minister and Cabinet Office minister to answer over how they siphoned off public money for their own political purposes.”
Blackford added: “There must be accountability. If the Tory Government genuinely believes it has nothing to hide or that it has done nothing wrong, then the Cabinet Office minister will set the record straight and the Prime Minister will commit to a full public inquiry.
“Our efforts in the middle of this deadly pandemic must be on saving lives – not channelling public money towards political campaigning.”