Post Office chair ousted because it ‘just wasn’t working’, says business secretary

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Kemi Badenoch has said she ousted the chair of the Post Office because she felt he was unable to deliver the scale of change needed in the aftermath of the Horizon IT scandal.

The UK business secretary told the BBC on Sunday that the governance of the state-owned business under Henry Staunton “just wasn’t working” and this required a change of leadership on the board.

She confirmed that Staunton, who had been appointed chair of the board little more than a year ago in December 2022, had been asked to step down in a phone call on Saturday.

“There were various disagreements within the board, and when I looked at it I thought a change of personnel was required,” Badenoch said.

“It’s not just about Horizon, it’s about the entire business model . . . we needed someone who could chair the board who was able to deal with these things effectively,” she added.

On Saturday, the Department for Business and Trade said that Badenoch and Staunton had “agreed to part ways with mutual consent”. Staunton could not be immediately reached for comment.

The move came after a wider shake-up of the Post Office board in the past month and on the back of heightened public awareness of the decades-long Horizon scandal following the airing of an ITV drama.

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

Including cases brought by Scottish public prosecutors and others, more than 900 sub-postmasters were convicted using data from the Japanese company’s Horizon software.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced this month that he would legislate to quash the convictions en masse as he labelled the affair “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in our nation’s history”.

The opposition Labour party said on Sunday that the government would need to justify Staunton’s removal, though it acknowledged that the scale of challenge within the organisation extended beyond Horizon.

“The government will have to tell us why the decision was made yesterday, the person going wasn’t there for the scandal,” said Jonathan Reynolds, Labour’s shadow business secretary.

“It’s quite unusual to have a decision like this at the weekend,” he told the BBC.

Staunton’s departure comes as the government prepares to appoint a new senior independent director at the Post Office to replace Ben Tidswell when his three-year term ends at the end of July.

Tidswell chairs the committee overseeing two compensation schemes for affected sub-postmasters and is also a member of the remuneration committee.

The remuneration committee was criticised last year for improperly approving bonuses for Post Office executives on the basis of their support for the ongoing public inquiry into the Horizon affair.

The Post Office had claimed the chair of the inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, provided “confirmation” that the executives had “supported and enabled” the inquiry. Williams said the statement was “misleading”.

The Post Office posted pre-tax losses of £81mn in 2022-23, down from £131mn the previous year. This excludes the cost of redress for sub-postmasters, where the government has set aside £1bn for payments to victims.

Members of the government-appointed Horizon Compensation Advisory Board told the Financial Times on Saturday that they expected more change within the Post Office leadership.

Separately, the Cabinet Office confirmed on Friday that Fujitsu’s former UK chief, Michael Keegan, had stepped down from his role as a Crown Representative.

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