Sir David Davis comments on the delayed release of polling figures about pandemic policy


As published by Insider:

The government is reviewing if it can publish taxpayer-funded polling into its pandemic policy, with the result of the review not expected until spring.

Pollsters say figures could be published within 48 hours and one senior Tory MP, David Davis, says there is “no argument whatsoever for not releasing this polling.”

In a letter to William Wragg MP, chair of Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs committee, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay said he could “commit to conducting a review to scope the content and timings for sharing the requested information, where possible to do so, and provide this to the committee this spring”.

Wragg, a Conservative backbencher, had asked Barclay for copies of reports compiled on polling related to the government’s COVID-19 response, as well as questions used in these polls.

The polls were commissioned by the Cabinet Office regarding “public mood, concern, confidence and sentiment”, “business confidence amongst SME companies”, and polling “to support the evaluation of communications campaigns”, carried out by a range of firms.

Many of the pollsters are members of the British Polling Council, which says that if polling figures are published and made public, the underlying data figures should be released within 48 hours.

One pollster at Savanta told Insider the process of publishing figures was “not very” arduous, and “pretty straightforward our end”.

Davis, who has been attempting to get the government to release the polling through Freedom of Information requests and Parliamentary questions, says there is no reason the polling cannot be published.

“This polling cannot be secret. It’s open polling,” he told Insider. “It was paid for by public money, it’s not being used for current policy, and it can’t be expensive to release.

“It is very difficult to understand why the government is not publishing unless they are trying to conceal their decision making,” he said.

Davis said the government’s failure to respond to his FOI request was a breach of the FOI act. His requests have been denied on the grounds it would be prohibitively expensive, as well as an argument that old polling is still being used to shape government policy.

Davis has also alleged, in evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Cabinet Office’s handling of FOI, that the taxpayer-funded polling may have been used to “gain a political advantage.”

“This is an issue of fairness. The public ought to have access to polling data they have paid for,” he wrote at the time.