Fujitsu won contracts on Sunak’s watch despite Post Office scandal

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The UK government awarded billions of pounds of contracts involving Fujitsu on Rishi Sunak’s watch after the Japanese company’s software was found to be at fault in the Post Office scandal in a landmark 2019 court ruling.

Government procurement records show Fujitsu was involved in £4.9bn of solo and joint public-sector contracts after the December 2019 ruling, including £3.6bn during Sunak’s time as chancellor and now prime minister.

Fujitsu provided the Horizon IT system at the heart of the biggest miscarriage of justice in modern British history and a growing political storm over the failure of successive governments to resolve the scandal.

On Tuesday, former Post Office boss Paula Vennells relinquished a CBE awarded by the Conservatives in 2019 as ministers said they were looking at exonerating hundreds of wrongly prosecuted sub-postmasters en masse.

Fujitsu executives have been summoned to give evidence to MPs on the House of Commons business and trade committee next week.

Over 700 people were criminally prosecuted by the Post Office from 2000 to 2014 using faulty data from Fujitsu’s Horizon accounting software.

The state-owned business also sued hundreds of sub-postmasters to recover purported shortfalls of money shown by Horizon.

The Metropolitan Police have been investigating since 2020 and said last week the probe into the Post Office scandal included fraud claims.

MPs and members of the government-appointed Horizon Compensation Advisory Board have called for a moratorium on Fujitsu public-sector contracts.

“Ministers cannot and must not reward failure any further,” said Liam Byrne, Labour MP and chair of the Commons business committee. “It’s vital there’s now a moratorium on new contracts for Fujitsu until we’ve got to the bottom of this terrible miscarriage of justice.”

In 2019, the Court of Appeal found Fujitsu’s Horizon system contained bugs and errors that resulted in branches being wrongly flagged as suffering shortfalls.

The decision came after a decades-long campaign by postmasters to secure recognition that they had been wrongly pursued by the Post Office. The scandal has gained renewed attention in recent weeks after an ITV drama about the affair.

In 2020, then-prime minister Boris Johnson launched a public inquiry that is ongoing.

Since the court’s decision, Fujitsu has received £1.6bn in individual government contracts and was involved in a further £3.3bn in joint awards from departments including the Treasury and HM Revenue & Customs. The contracts covered a range of software services.

Fujitsu was involved in £2.4bn worth of awarded contracts when Sunak was chancellor from February 2020 to July 2022, and another £1.2bn since he became prime minister in October 2022, according to procurement records.

Though Sunak would not have signed off on any of the contracts, which are overseen by the Cabinet Office, both roles required him to be intimately involved in public spending.

Sunak’s spokesperson said: “Once the full facts have been established by the inquiry, we will make further judgments but it’s important that we allow that process to take place.”

Horizon is estimated to have cost nearly £2.4bn to install and manage since 1999. The Post Office still uses the system. It awarded Fujitsu £36mn last year to keep Horizon in operation until at least 2025.

Kevan Jones, Labour MP for North Durham and a member of the Horizon compensation board, said Fujitsu should not be able to bid on contracts until it came “clean on its role and responsibilities”.

“Business as usual with Fujitsu sends a troubling message to those wanting the scandal to be fully acknowledged,” added Richard Moorhead, a professor of legal ethics and another compensation board member.

The public inquiry into Horizon has heard Fujitsu employees played an integral role in providing evidence to support the Post Office in prosecutions.

In March last year, the inquiry took evidence from a former Fujitsu employee who alleged company staff on a Horizon helpline displayed discriminatory behaviour.

“Shouts across the floor could be heard saying ‘I have another Patel scamming again’. They mistrusted every Asian postmaster . . . They created a picture of postmasters that suggested they were incompetent or fraudsters,” Amandeep Singh told the inquiry.

The Metropolitan Police has interviewed two Fujitsu employees under caution in relation to allegations of perjury and perverting the course of justice after they acted as expert witnesses in Post Office prosecutions.

The Met has said no individual has been arrested and the two employees have not been identified.

Ministers on Monday suggested they could seek to claim back money from Fujitsu and other relevant parties to cover the bill for compensating sub-postmasters but said they were awaiting the conclusion of the inquiry.

Fujitsu said the public inquiry was examining complex events stretching back more than two decades and had reinforced the devastating impact the affair had on postmasters’ lives.

The company said it “apologised for its role in their suffering” and was committed to supporting the inquiry.

“Out of respect for the inquiry process, it would be inappropriate for Fujitsu to comment further at this time,” Fujitsu said.

Additional reporting by Jim Pickard and Alan Smith