Palantir lobbied UK pensions department for its software to tackle fraud

Approach follows successful contracts in the health sector

US spy-tech firm Palantir launched a direct lobbying campaign targeting UK government departments, including the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

According to documents released to The Guardian, the data and analytics business co-founded by Trump financier Peter Thiel suggested ministers were looking at new software designed to reduce fraud in the social security benefits system.

The newspaper's Freedom of Information requests yielded detail of Palantir's letters addressed to Tom Pursglove, Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, briefing him on how the company had deployed its software elsewhere, and showing how the DWP might "recover large amounts of fraud."

The software company offered more detail on its "thinking" and asked the minister if he or his officials wanted to attend a briefing "to explore whether this capability could be of benefit in the UK."

The DWP said it did not respond to the correspondence and no minister was briefed as a result.

The department first encountered Palantir in 2014, when Kevin Cunnington, who went on to become boss of the Government Digital Service, bumped into the firm on a fact-finding mission to California.

In a blog post published at the time, he said he invited Palantir to "meet with Cath Hamp, director of DWP's departmental Security Design team."

A Palantir spokesperson said the most recent meeting with the minister was requested in relation to his "general responsibility for tackling fraud and error. It wasn't concerned with, nor did it make any reference to, any specific area of the Department's responsibilities.

"Instead it would have been to discuss how our software could help DWP officials to better organize their information in order to tackle fraud and error in the round – which costs the UK taxpayer billions of pounds a year that could otherwise potentially be spent in areas such as health or education.

"We're proud that our software has helped the UK Government to deliver a successful COVID vaccine rollout, reduce NHS waiting lists, enable Royal Navy vessels to spend longer at sea and safely resettle Ukrainian refugees – all while rigorously protecting data privacy.

"We make no apology for constantly looking for new ways in which our software can help and there is nothing unusual about writing official correspondence to ministers offering ideas for how it could."

Palantir has drawn criticism for its approach to lobbying the Department for Health and Social Care in the lead-up to its contract award during the pandemic. According to a report [PDF] by campaign groups Foxglove and the Doctors' Association UK, in mid–2019 Palantir met with then–chair of NHS England's board, Lord David Prior. Over the next few months it lobbied with Matthew Gould, who at the time was CEO of NHSX, the health service's technology and transformation unit. He's now national director of digital transformation in NHS England.

Palantir is considered a frontrunner in the competition for the £480 million ($610 million) Federated Data Platform contract, which is currently in competitive procurement. It first started working with NHS England during the height of the pandemic, when a £1 award led to a £1 million ($1.7 million) deal, and then a £23 million ($29.2 million) contract signed in December 2020 without competition for a COVID-linked data store and related analytics. ®

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