July 22, 2024

Kemi Badenoch has suggested there could be a wider shake-up at the Post Office over the Horizon scandal and other problems, after she asked its chair to leave at the weekend.

The business secretary said she had needed to intervene as there were “difficulties with the board” at the Post Office when asked about Henry Staunton’s departure.

The Post Office has been under huge scrutiny since an ITV dramatisation of the scandal over post office operators wrongly convicted of fraud because of the faulty Horizon IT system. Since then, the government has rushed through legislation to compensate those affected more quickly.

The government had said Staunton left by mutual consent on Saturday night. Asked whether he had been fired, Badenoch told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “Yes, we had a conversation and we agreed that it was better that the Post Office had new leadership going forward.”

She added: “It was very sad that we had to come to this conclusion and one of the things that I think is important – and one of the things that I think is important when we do need to have a change of personnel – is that we don’t hound the people or go after them.

“The issues that the Post Office have go well beyond the Horizon scandal, so this wasn’t just about Horizon and the ongoing inquiry into the Post Office. It’s about the Post Office as an entity and the governance of it.

“There is a board, there have been disagreements across the board, and my view is that sometimes you just need a different person to deal with different issues.”

She said a failure to change the leadership of the Post Office would have been “bureaucratic indifference” and said she had not appointed him in the first place.

When asked whether there could be further changes to the board, Badenoch said she was not going to announce HR moves on television.

“I won’t be making any further comments around personnel changes. I think we need to do this in a civilised way,” she said.

Asked whether she felt ashamed that it took an ITV drama to prompt action, the business secretary said: “It wasn’t TV that made this happen. It had been happening … The drama is not what has been prompting government action.”

Staunton, 75, became chair in December 2022 after a long career in FTSE boardrooms.

The decision to replace him came as Rishi Sunak tries to push through new laws to “swiftly exonerate and compensate” those affected by the Horizon scandal.

Badenoch said she “certainly” expects Fujitsu, which provided the faulty Horizon IT system, to pay compensation over the scandal that led to subpostmasters wrongly convicted of fraud.

The business secretary said she had written to the chair of the company asking for meetings but he was based in Japan so “it’s not that straightforward”.

She said: “I certainly expect that that will happen in due course … Previously we’ve been waiting till the end of the inquiry and it is important that we get to the end of that inquiry to know what should happen.

“But Fujitsu is a part of this, they are very much a part of this story, it’s not just Post Office management, and I hope that they will do the right thing.”

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