Brexit-Related Firm Wins Government Contracts Related to AI and Data Mining

An Artificial Intelligence (AI) firm with connections to the 2016 Vote Leave campaign has been awarded seven government contracts in the last 18 months.

According to the Guardian, Faculty, which traded under the name Advanced Skills Initiative during the 2016 referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, has won seven contracts totaling around £280,000 of government work.

Faculty chief executive Marc Warren also attended a Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE) meeting, attending as an observer for NHSX.

Meanwhile his brother, data scientist Ben Warner, was recruited to Downing Street last year for the Conservative Party’s general election campaign, and also attended SAGE meetings to provide advice to ministers on COVID-19.

Faculty is also working at the heart of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, processing large volumes of patient information alongside US firm Palantir, although it only has access to data that has been aggregated or anonymized by the NHS. The NHS has stated that the companies involved do not control the data and are not permitted to use or share it for their own purposes

One tender was a £250,000 cross-government review on the adoption of AI, issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Government Digital Service (GDS), a body which promotes the use of digital technology to improve public services, in 2019. Cabinet Office minister Theodore Agnew also reportedly has a £90,000 shareholding in Faculty.

The contract was intended “to identify the most significant opportunities to introduce AI across government with the aim of increasing productivity and improving the quality of public services.”

Another contract was awarded in 2018 for £32,000 to fund fellowships to place data scientists in city governments to help solve local challenges. Faculty was at that time operating under its original name, Advanced Skills Initiative.

Other contracts include a £264,000 contract from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to monitor the impact of the coronavirus on industry, and a £600,000 contract from the Home Office to track terrorist videos online.

Holly Searle, Faculty’s head of PR and communications, told the Guardian: “Faculty has strong governance procedures in place to guard against conflicts of interest when competing for new work. All of its contracts with the government are won through the proper processes and in line with procurement rules.” Infosecurity has reached out to Faculty for further comment.

A government spokesperson said Agnew had had no role in awarding any contracts to Faculty while he had been a minister, and he had followed the appropriate procedures by declaring his shareholding in House of Lords register of interests and under the ministerial code of conduct.

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