Did Microsoft threaten facility closures because of tech reforms?

Former strategy chief makes bold claim

Microsoft and a handful of other technology companies threatened to shut down facilities across a swathe of constituencies if IT reforms were passed by the Conservative government, according to one former government worker.

First reported by The Guardian, Steve Hilton, a former chief of strategy for Prime Minister David Cameron, explained that executives from Microsoft called Conservative MPs in various areas of the country to say they would close down facilities in their areas in IT reform went through.

"You just have to fight them off. I can give you specific examples: the thing I mentioned about IT contracts. Maybe there is someone here to confirm this from Microsoft? When we proposed this, Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said, 'we will close them down in your constituency if this goes through'," he said when talking about how the government deals with lobbyists.

Hilton went on to say that they "had the same from other tech companies" before adding that "you have to be brave" because it is the right thing to do. It isn't the first time that someone has mentioned Microsoft's lobbying activities either.

"A day or two before we were going to give a speech, a couple of backbench MPs called the office – they said Microsoft had called them saying if we went ahead with the speech on open standards, open architecture and open source, they would cut spending or maybe close research and development centres in the constituencies of the MPs they had called," former Downing Street aide Rohan Silva told a conference in 2014, according to Computer Weekly.

Never the same again

Silva added that once George Osborne was informed he asked for Microsoft to contact him directly, however, no call was ever forthcoming and the relationship with the public affairs department "was never quite the same".

Microsoft was one of the most vocal opponents of the government's decision to adopt the open document format in 2014 before it relented earlier this year to allow the format to be used inside Office 365. It declined to comment on either story.