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Faculty secures new deal to analyse impact of coronavirus across the UK

The London AI company Faculty has secured a new six-figure deal to provide government with real-time analysis of how the coronavirus crisis is impacting communities across the UK.

As part of the deal, which is worth £400,000, Faculty’s data scientists will analyse data from social media, utilities and telecoms bills and credit rating agencies in an attempt to improve the government’s understanding of the effects of coronavirus at a local level.

Councils have spent millions of pounds in recent years on socioeconomic data from credit agencies in order to profile and categorise segments of the population as part of risk-scoring exercises.

But Faculty’s project, which has been commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, appears to be a more ambitious initiative to map the impact of the virus on local areas across the country.

Although key parts of the published contract have been redacted, experts told NS Tech that the utilities and telecoms bills could provide insights into how many people in areas already segmented based on socioeconomic indicators are working from home following the introduction of lockdown measures. The bills may also identify areas where citizens are often falling behind on their utility payments.

As well as the social media, billing and credit agency data, the project also ingests “process data from the various alternative data sources identified as relevant and valuable for monitoring and forecasting indicators of rental market stress”. This may indicate the government is attempting to assess how many people may be unable to keep up with rent payments, and made homesless, as salaries fall and unemployment rises.

Faculty’s data analysis will be presented via “interactive dashboards which summarise the above activities into an easily consumable interface to inform policymakers”, according to the contract, which did not go to competitive tender.

The project shares similarities to the Covid-19 data store Faculty is building, in partnership with the US firm Palantir, on behalf of NHS England and the Department for Health and Social Care. The data store ingests up to 1,000 data sources a day to assess and predict demand on the health service at a local and national level, and enable hospitals to more efficiently coordinate the sharing of resources such as ventilators and PPE.

Faculty, which worked with Dominic Cummings on the Vote Leave campaign, had reportedly secured seven government deals in the 18 months leading up to the start of May. Ben Warner, a former Faculty employee and the brother of its chief executive, has also been appointed as a data science adviser to Downing Street.