Peter Thiel’s Tech Giant Palantir Extends its Reach into UK Local and National Government
David Hencke with more detail on the Government contract with Palantir and the involvement of the data science team behind the Vote Leave campaign
Palantir – the controversial US data company run by Peter Thiel, the billionaire who supported Donald Trump – is expanding its role in the UK with a new contract that covers national and local government.
The firm, which won a contract without competitive tender last year to provide a NHS database for COVID-19 patients, has used the same process to get a new £23 million contract with the NHS.
The deal also provides a new role for another controversial company, Faculty, run by Marc Warner, whose brother, Ben, was reported by The Sunday Times to have been recruited to Downing Street by Boris Johnson’s former chief advisor, Dominic Cummings after running the Conservative Party’s private election model. Ben Warner remains as a special advisor at the heart of Government despite Cummings’ departure last year. The same team, formerly known as ASI, worked with Cummings when he ran the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 EU referendum.
Details of the deal published by the Government show that it is much wider in scope than the original Coronavirus contract.
It will create separate databases to cover the vaccination programme, supplies of equipment such as PPE for intensive care units and incorporate an early warning and forecasting system to be supplied by Faculty. The contract states: “The EWS Tool includes forecasts generated using a model designed, supplied, and maintained by Faculty AI, who is a direct contractor of Buyer.”
The system will be used to highlight the health trusts most at risk of being overwhelmed by the virus. The vaccination programme will cover both COVID-19 and flu, monitor uptake, allocation of vaccines and the ordering of fresh vaccines.
A new feature will be a “national command centre for managing COVID-19 response in the social care sector”.
The contract states: “It includes the integration of data sources including test data from across pillars, deaths data, care home reference data, infection prevention controls questionnaire, and capacity and workforce data. Users can monitor COVID-19 occurrence and spread within social care facilities, care provider response, and performance against a variety of metrics in configurable dashboards and analytical tools.”
The deal also substantially extends both the scope of the data that will be collected and the number of people who will access it. The contract applies to data not only from health trusts but covers GPs and any organisation of which the NHS is a partner.
The databases that Palantir will access have been redacted in the contract.
As well as the NHS, the data collected in most cases will be accessed by the Cabinet Office, the Civil Contingencies Unit and in many cases by all “UK Government departments” and local authorities if they participate in the new system.
Palantir is set to do well out of the deal as it will be paid yearly in advance for two years before doing the work. On 12 December, the Government will have handed over £3 million for an annual licence fee to use Palantir’s system, £7,968,750 to set up and run the databases and £1.562 million for six months’ use of the new adult social care operations command structure.
The contract allows the Government to renew the local authority contract after six months, without Palantir having to go out to competitive tender.
It was approved despite a move by journalists at openDemocracy and the campaigning and open government organisation Foxglove demanding greater transparency over deals that involve the handing over of confidential data to firms such as Palantir.
“Instead of giving these assurances, the Government simply pushed the deal with Palantir through, thereby avoiding having to defend it in court,” states a report by openDemocracy. “On top of that, they used our enquiries as an excuse to hide what they were up to; telling other journalists that they couldn’t answer their questions on the COVID-19 datastore because it was the subject of “legal action”, while pressing ahead with the deal anyway.”