Ministry of Defence spending ‘astounding’ £300,000 a year on focus groups and polls

The Ministry of Defence is spending an “astounding” £300,000 a year on opinion polling and “focus groups”, it has been revealed.

The spending, which comes as the government cuts over 5,000 soldiers from the army on cost grounds, is being criticised by opposition MPs as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Independent asked the MoD what exactly it was polling people about or what it was asking people in focus groups, but the department would not say.

A spokesperson would only say the ministry was measuring public opinion so it could “continue to communicate clearly and effectively”.

Government departments increasingly spend significant amounts of taxpayer cash measuring opinion and testing out different communications strategies on the public.

Polling purports to give a snapshot of public opinion on a particular issue, but the responses often depend on how the question is asked, with results open to a range of interpretations.

Focus groups involve interviewing a small number of people in an attempt to gauge wider public opinion or reactions. The approach originated in retail marketing, and its use in political communication is more controversial.

The MoD’s communications team spend £199,730 on polling in financial year 2021-22, and £108,600 on focus groups during the same period – a total of £308,330.

The figure across the department could be even higher because ministers say they do not have a central record of all public opinion research conducted across the department.

Liberal Democrat defence Spokesperson Jamie Stone said: “This is an astounding way to be using taxpayers’ money. As our armed forces face cuts, the Conservative Government spends hundreds of thousands of pounds on MoD polls and focus groups. You could not have a clearer sign that they have not got their priorities right.

“The Government should scrap these expensive focus groups, and reinvest the money into our armed forces where it’s needed.”

Responding to a parliamentary question, defence and Cabinet Office minister Leo Docherty said: “Focus groups and polling services are not recorded centrally therefore, costs for the whole of the Ministry of Defence (Mod) cannot be identified.

“With regards to the MOD communications function and polling, we have counted this as quantitative opinion research, most often on external audiences.

“The MoD communications function (across Top Level Budgets) spent £199,730 on polling in financial year 2021-22 [and] £108,600 on focus groups in financial year 2021-22.”

An MoD Spokesperson said: “Defence plays a crucial role in keeping our country safe, levelling up communities and supporting our allies around the world.

“We carry out polling and focus groups so that we can continue to communicate clearly and effectively and ensure that our policies and actions are explained in a meaningful way to the public.”


Douglas Mateo

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