Daniel - stock.adobe.com

New minister asked to pause Fujitsu government contracts

Parliamentarians keep focus on Fujitsu’s role in the Post Office Horizon scandal with demand for pause on government contracts to the supplier

Politicians are keeping up the pressure to block government contracts being awarded to Fujitsu because of its role in the Post Office Horizon scandal.

With musical chairs being played in government departments as the UK gets its third prime minister in two months, campaigning MPs and Lords are keeping the issue in the spotlight.

Labour MP Kate Osborne demanded that Dean Russell, recently installed Parliamentary under secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, should pause and review all government contracts with Fujitsu.

The Post Office Horizon scandal saw thousands of subpostmasters blamed for accounting shortfalls that were later proved to have been caused by computer errors – but not before lives had been ruined. Between 2000 and 2015, some 900 subpostmasters were prosecuted for financial crimes such as theft and false accounting, based on data from the Fujitsu-supplied Horizon system. Thousands more were ruined financially and had their lives turned upside down.

Fujitsu has so far escaped financial penalties, whereas the government has been forced to set aside £1bn to cover the costs of compensating victims of the scandal. Meanwhile, Fujitsu continues to win significant IT projects with the UK government.

The Japanese IT supplier has been awarded IT services contracts by the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). It will be paid £250m by HMRC to replace an in-house service, while the FCDO has contracted it to provide networking and communications services in a deal worth £184m, and the Home Office is paying Fujitsu £48m to support the technology underpinning the Police National Database.

Osborne said: “I thank the minister for the constructive meeting that I and others had with him last week regarding the Post Office Horizon scandal, but he will know that no one from the Post Office, Fujitsu or the government has yet to be held accountable.”

She added: “At that meeting, and last night in the House of Lords, it was raised that despite this scandal, the government are still awarding multimillion-pound contracts to Fujitsu. An apology from Fujitsu is not enough. Will the secretary of state commit to pausing and reviewing all existing government contracts with that appalling company?”

Russell replied: “The Horizon scandal was awful and I will gladly follow up with further meetings to discuss the matter further.”

On Monday 24 October in the House of Lords, peers debated the award of a  £48m contract to Fujitsu to upgrade the Police National Computer.

During the debate, Conservative peer Stuart Polak said that when it comes to the Horizon system, “the words that come to my mind are: ‘scandalous’, ‘miscarriage of justice’, broken lives’, ‘families financially ruined’ – and yet Fujitsu has paid nothing”.

He added: “The talking has gone on long enough. I know there are legal cases, but should not the government stop any contracts to Fujitsu? It is just morally wrong.”

Fujitsu’s role in the scandal is currently being examined in a statutory public inquiry.

Back in 2009, Computer Weekly told the stories of seven subpostmasters affected by the problems (see timeline below of Computer Weekly articles on the scandal since first reporting on it in 2009).

Read all Computer Weekly’s articles about the scandal since 2009

Read more on IT for retail and logistics

Data Center
Data Management