NEWS22 September 2020

MRS calls for more government digital investment

Covid-19 News UK

UK – The government should prioritise digital investment to support the UK’s market and social research sector, the Market Research Society has said.


A survey of MRS company partners and research business owners carried out in August found that widening full broadband coverage was considered the most beneficial step the government could take to support the sector, with a mean score of 6.53 out of 10.

Other top responses were VAT relief on research services and to widen the scope of research and development tax credits.

The industry survey by Watermelon Research, a follow-up wave to earlier research conducted in the spring, also found that the majority ( 88%) of respondents anticipate a large degree of home-based working for the foreseeable future.

The majority ( 76%) of research companies who took part reported a negative impact from Covid-19 on their revenue – a smaller proportion than reported in the April-May research ( 87%).

There was a slight increase in the level of optimism from research companies, with 43% optimistic for the next six months (compared with 20% in April/May) and half of respondents optimistic for the year ahead (up from 38%).

Two-thirds of participants reported an increase in online qualitative research in August, up from 39% in the earlier survey. Analysis and reporting, data processing, online data collection and telephone data collection also experienced an uplift since the early stages of the pandemic.    

Jane Frost, chief executive of MRS, said: “Our sector has demonstrated impressive resilience. While most participants to the survey are anticipating a negative impact on revenues this year, it’s welcome news that the number has come down since earlier this year. Much of this can be attributed to how well companies have adapted to everything this year has thrown at us. 

“But their message is clear – our ‘new normal’ is not sustainable without significant investment in digital infrastructure. This government must re-evaluate its focus on bricks and mortar and start building a digital economy that’s fit for the future and can support companies in navigating the uncertain times ahead.”   

Despite the increase in optimism, smaller companies and those conducting face-to-face fieldwork were more likely to report revenue loss, and 69% of companies offering face-to-face research said that they have not yet restarted this type of research, with 5% reporting that they will no longer offer it in future. A quarter ( 24%) said they have recommenced face-to-face work, but at a lower volume than prior to the pandemic.  

Frost said: “The threat to face-to-face research continues to be a cause for concern. The vast majority of face-to-face work that has resumed is supporting government-commissioned Covid-19 projects, which demonstrates how critical this research is to understanding societal changes. 

“While alternative methods and techniques have been utilised to great effect, it is critical that in-person fieldwork is resumed and reprioritised once it is safe. This is not just important for the thousands of experienced and skilled fieldworkers around the country, but also because there is no substitute for face-to-face data collection.”