The business secretary has told Sky News that issues at the Post Office “go beyond” the Horizon IT scandal.
Kemi Badenoch told Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips she was “sad” to have come to the joint conclusion with Mr Staunton that he should leave the role but that it was “better the Post Office had new leadership going forwards”.
“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.”
Sky News revealed at the weekend that Mr Staunton, who had been in post only for a year, had stepped down amid ongoing tensions with the government in the wake of the Horizon IT scandal, which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly accused of stealing because faults in the system – developed by Fujitsu – made it look like money was going missing from branches.
Mr Staunton had been tasked with leading the board of directors as the firm continues to come under pressure from the fallout of what has been described as the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice.
Insiders told Sky News his exit was not directly related to the Horizon scandal itself but were in fact due to differences of opinion over who was the best candidate for the job, with Mr Staunton and a number of colleagues said to have favoured Andrew Darfoor, a former financial services executive who is one of the company’s existing non-executive directors, to take the position.
However, the government is understood to want to appoint a Whitehall insider to the role as it looks to strengthen the Post Office’s corporate governance.
Asked why Mr Staunton had been asked to leave after just a year in the job, Ms Badenoch said the “wrong thing to do” would be to “sit back with that bureaucratic indifference that we often see across systems and say, ‘Well, he’s only been there a year: let’s hope things just get better”.
She added: “I see it as my job to intervene if I don’t believe that the system is working and that is exactly what I have done.”
Between 1999 and 2015, more than 700 people were prosecuted for a variety of offences including theft, fraud and false accounting – causing many to lose their jobs, livelihoods and reputations.
Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak announced that a new law would be introduced to exonerate and compensate those caught up in the Horizon scandal and that those who were part of the group litigation order against the Post Office would also be eligible for an upfront payment of £75,000.
Ms Badenoch also denied that the ITV drama was the catalyst for bringing about change relating to the scandal, telling Sir Trevor it was “not what has been prompting government action” and that ministers had taken action before then.
Asked if she expected to see Fujitsu pay compensation, Ms Badenoch said: “I certainly expect that will happen in due course.”