As the proud owner of a majestic castle in Kent and a luxurious villa in Mustique, the founder of Mori, Sir Robert Worcester, is a man who has clearly done well out of the opinion poll business.
Not only have his skills earned him a fortune, it has also seen him feted by politicians around the world, the UK’s Sunday Observer reported.
A staunch monarchist, the Kansas-born Worcester was knighted in 2005 for “outstanding services rendered to political, social and economic research and for contribution to government policy and programmes”.
The same year Mori was sold to the French polling company Ipsos, a move that netted him a reported £9 m.
Some might have then been happy to sit back and enjoy the spoils of their labour. But Worcester continued amassing a formidable range of fellowships, titles and charitable positions, including the chair of the Magna Carta Trust’s 800th anniversary commemoration committee, which recognised the charter’s continued influence promoting the rule of law and social justice around the world.
He also hired out his political acumen, not least in Trinidad and Tobago where, documents leaked to the Observer reveal, the government agreed a $10m budget for his company to provide it with consultancy services between 2013 and 2015.
The huge sum – equivalent to the UK government’s 2015 wage bill for its 96 special advisers – is likely to raise eyebrows on the tiny islands, which have a population of just 1.3 million and where the average wage is just under £12,000.
A letter to Worcester from Reynold Cooper, Permanent Secretary to the Prime Minister, dated 11 June 2013, says: “Please be informed that cabinet has approved the fees and expenses for the core consultancy, 13 sets of surveys and seven sets of focus groups totalling US$9,793,475, plus your estimated expenses of US$160,000 giving a total sum of US$9,953,475.”
A copy of the contract between Government Information Services Limited (GISL), the government’s communications service, and Mori Caribbean, a separate firm that Worcester retained after selling Mori, explains that the two-year project, a continuation of earlier work, was to improve the delivery of public services. Worcester’s firm was also offered a separate contract to help the government develop its strategic communications plan.
Worcester, a former president of the Institute of Business Ethics, said that in 2010 he had been approached on behalf of the newly elected prime minister, Kamla Persad-Bissessar. She wanted Mori Caribbean to continue the work it had been doing for her predecessor, Patrick Manning.
According to the contract, seen by the Observer and the Sunday Express newspaper in Trinidad and Tobago, GISL was charged with overseeing Mori Caribbean’s projects and ensuring that it was paid within 60 days of the company submitting its invoices. A considerable portion of the money went directly to Worcester.
On 5 February 2014 GISL instructed the First Citizens Bank in the capital, Port of Spain, to transfer $1,326,475.55 to Worcester’s private account in Kingstown on St Vincent, an island in the Caribbean where he has citizenship.
Worcester said that the money was not paid directly to Mori Caribbean as the company had been closed down “because it was a burden for accounting that we didn’t need and the project had been completed”.
He added that some of the money he received was shared with other consultants, including Mark Gill, formerly head of political research at Ipsos Mori.
Sources in Trinidad have said that GISL invoiced the government for further payments on behalf of Mori Caribbean the following year.
Worcester confirmed that the earlier payment of almost $10m was approved, but insisted that Mori Caribbean received only around $3.2m in the end. He said that, legally, the company could have billed for the full amount but chose not to because the firm had not carried out the full range of services agreed.
“It’s [still] a lot of money, I’m not disagreeing with that,” Worcester said.
“We subcontracted – about two-thirds of everything we got went to outside contractors. We couldn’t do them because we’re not native Trinnies [Trinidadians]. Of the $3.2m [we billed for] about $2.3m was paid to local contractors.”
Documents seen by the Observer indicate that one of the subcontractors – Caribbean Market Research Limited – was paid around $8,000 for carrying out seven focus groups on behalf of Mori Caribbean. Worcester said this was just a fraction of what Mori Caribbeanhad paid out to all the subcontractors. The true amount that the company received in 2015 is difficult to establish: GISL is being wound up and many of its files and invoices have been destroyed.
However, documents seen by the Observer show that the government approved $1.35m worth of invoices relating to Mori Caribbean in 2015.
A spokeswoman for the government of Trinidad and Tobago said she was aware of the Observer’s requests for comment but was not authorised to respond. Persad-Bissessar, who left office in 2015, did not return an emailed request for comment.
Worcester said he and his firm had been caught in “the crosshairs” of a politically motivated leak designed to paint the previous government as “spendthrifts” in the runup to the last election.
“Mori Caribbean did nothing but good down there,” he added.
SIR ROBERT WORCESTER
SIR ROBERT WORCESTER AND HIS CASTLE KENT