Post Office chair quits board as UK government seeks ‘new leadership’

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The chair of the Post Office has quit its board as the UK government said it was seeking “new leadership” for the state-owned business at the centre of the Horizon scandal.

Henry Staunton, who has been chair since December 2022, will step down with immediate effect following a phone call with business secretary Kemi Badenoch on Saturday, the Department for Business and Trade said in a statement.

Badenoch and Staunton had “agreed to part ways with mutual consent” and an interim chair would be appointed to enable a formal application process to take place, the statement said.

Staunton was a member of the Post Office remuneration committee and had previously come under fire from MPs over the handling of bonuses to executives.

More than 700 sub-postmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 using data from Fujitsu’s flawed Horizon IT system.

Badenoch said: “The Post Office is rightfully under a heightened level of scrutiny at this time. I felt there was a need for new leadership, and we have parted ways with mutual consent.”

Staunton is the second member of the Post Office board to depart this year. Applications opened this month to replace senior independent director Ben Tidswell, a lawyer who chaired the committee overseeing two Horizon compensation schemes.

A person with knowledge of Badenoch’s thinking said she had taken action to address the scandal, including setting a minimum floor of £600,000 to compensate wrongly convicted sub-postmasters and pushing for legislation to facilitate the mass exoneration of victims.

This month she wrote to Japanese IT company Fujitsu demanding talks after executives conceded their software was at the centre of the scandal and the company would need to contribute to the cost of compensation.

The UK government has set aside £1bn to cover compensation for those affected, though ministers have said the final figure is likely to exceed this amount.

Members of the government-appointed Horizon Compensation Advisory Board said Staunton’s removal, first reported by Sky News, should be followed by a wider shake-up in the Post Office’s leadership.

“This should be the start of a number of changes at the top of the Post Office. The government will need to ask whether the board and senior management are fit to handle the scale of this scandal,” said Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham.

Lord James Arbuthnot, a Tory peer and member of the compensation board, added: “At the moment there is such a toxic culture and reputation at the Post Office, that means it does need major change.”

Arbuthnot, who previously applied to chair the Post Office board, said he would not do so on this occasion. “There needs to be a drastic change in culture and governance,” he said.

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