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Fujitsu staff instructed how to bid for government contracts during self-imposed ban

Leak reveals how Fujitsu advises staff to approach UK government customers during its self-imposed bidding pause, as well as details of a multimillion-pound project to protect its reputation

A Fujitsu leak has revealed staff were given a flow diagram instructing them how to bid for government contracts during the IT supplier’s self-imposed ban on bidding, which a senior UK executive sees as no more than “an extra gateway” for it.

Internal communications seen by Computer Weekly also reveal Fujitsu has spent £27m on a project known as Holly, established to help the supplier through the current Post Office Horizon scandal, with the contracting of public relations, business ethics and law firms.

Staff at the UK arm of the Japanese IT giant were shown instructions on how to bid for government contracts during the period it promised to pause making them. This pause was as a “voluntary” concession, following its public shaming as the supplier of the software and support for the Post Office’s controversial Horizon system.

For example, in a flow diagram sent to staff, instructions advise that if a public sector body is not an existing customer, rather than pull out of the bidding, they can look to see if they have a unique selling point. Failing that, staff are told to ascertain whether there is potential for a failed procurement if they pull out, and if so, they should “escalate to Fujitsu’s head of public sector to raise with the Crown Representative”.

Computer Weekly has also seen a staff forum answer about the ban on bidding. In response to a question in the forum, Dave Riley, head of public sector at Fujitsu UK, told an employee it is not an outright ban, but another “gateway”, and that Fujitsu already has hundreds of millions of pounds worth of backlog of contracts to be delivered.

“I have outlined our current thinking, but I do need to be clear that we have over £650m of backlog to be delivered, so we need to keep focused on that,” he wrote. “Also, it is not a blanket ban on bidding, but is an extra gateway check we need to go through.”

Fujitsu said it does not wish to comment on Computer Weekly’s questions, but reiterated that it “continues to work very closely with the Cabinet Office to ensure that the [bidding pause] guidelines that we have voluntarily put in place are being followed appropriately”.

Fujitsu had to react quickly following the broadcast of ITV’s drama about the Post Office scandal, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, with the government contract bidding pause part of its response. It is also spending heavily in attempt to salvage its UK reputation, and contracting public relations, legal, government affairs, business ethics and governance companies as part the Holly project, which, according to internal communications seen by Computer Weekly, has already cost £27m.

Fujitsu refused to comment on the Holly project.

One of the supplier’s damage-limitation exercises was a letter to government in which Fujitsu made three promises on government bidding.

“Fujitsu will pause bidding for new government customers,” it said. “This is until such time the inquiry has reported, or with prior consultation and support from such government customers.

“In support of government, where there are existing customer relationships or an agreed need for Fujitsu skills and capability, we will bid as appropriate in line with public procurement process.

“Where we already actively engaged in a live procurement, we will sensitively assess our continued involvement whilst seeking not to disrupt ongoing procurement processes or disrupt essential government work.”

Public sector and national security

The promises have not quashed the suppliers’ ambitions in the UK government sector this year. Computer Weekly last week revealed leaked internal communications that showed despite a pause in bidding for government contracts, the Japanese supplier is still targeting £1.3bn worth of public sector and national security work in the UK in its current financial year.

Although the bidding pause was described as being self-imposed, Fujitsu is liaising with the government in relation to what is permitted, according to further leaked communications. Riley was asked about whether he has discussed with government whether bidding though partnerships with other suppliers is permitted. He wrote that he has had these discussions, and that “the current Cabinet Office position is, where we bid with a partner, it is up to the partner to decide if they are comfortable to work with them, so not currently subject to the gateway checks of us bidding”.

In response to a question about the Cabinet Office’s role in the creation and monitoring of Fujitsu’s “voluntary” bidding pause, the government said: “We welcome Fujitsu’s decision to pause bidding for work with new government customers until such time as the inquiry concludes. Ahead of that, and as with all contracts, we continue to keep Fujitsu’s conduct and commercial performance under review.”

The Fujitsu Group said “it regards this matter with the utmost seriousness, and offers its deepest apologies to the subpostmasters and their families”.

“The UK statutory public inquiry, to which our UK subsidiary is providing full cooperation, is examining complex events that have unfolded over many years, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to this cooperation,” it said.

“Based on the findings of the inquiry, we will also be working with the UK government on the appropriate actions, including contribution to compensation. The Fujitsu Group hopes for a swift resolution that ensures a just outcome for the victims.”

• Also read: What you need to know about the Horizon scandal

• Also watch: ITV’s documentary – Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The real story

Read all Computer Weekly articles about the scandal since 2009

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