Fujitsu should stop bending rules, stop bidding and pay up, says MP

MP Liam Byrne calls on Fujitsu to put actions behind the promises it made to MPs, victims of the Post Office scandal and UK taxpayers

Fujitsu should stop bending rules, halt bidding for government contracts, pay for Post Office scandal damage and meet the children of victims, the chair of the influential House of Commons business and trade select committee has demanded.

The IT firm is accused of hollow gestures as it continues to bid for lucrative government contracts, fails to agree a contribution to Post Office scandal costs and is yet to meet the children of victims.

The company, which supplied the controversial Horizon software, has been in the background of the Post Office Horizon scandal for a quarter of a century, but has only been forced out of its self-imposed silence by huge public pressure.

In the 15 years since Computer Weekly began investigating the scandal, until the beginning of this year, Fujitsu always gave a “no comment” response when contacted. But since the scandal became mainstream, following January’s ITV drama, Mr Bates vs the Post Office, the Japanese firm has made promises to government, the taxpayer and victims. These promises, however, are “hollow”, according to campaigners.

Almost as soon as public anger erupted, with a nation’s gaze upon it, the supplier promised to put bidding for government contracts on hold. But while Fujitsu was quick to give spoken concessions, it has not followed through with action.

Computer Weekly has revealed, through leaked internal communications at Fujitsu, that the self-imposed bidding pause has not quashed Fujitsu’s appetite for UK government contracts. The supplier has about £1.3bn worth of public sector and national security deals in its sights for the current financial year.

It has told staff they can bid for contracts in partnership with other suppliers, win business with existing government customers – of which there are many, and has instructed staff how to work around the self-imposed ban.

Hefty backlog

Internal communications also revealed that Fujitsu already has “over £650m of backlog to be delivered” to the public sector.

MP Liam Byrne, chair of the business and trade select committee, said the supplier should stop bidding now. “They basically should not be bidding for any government work until they have agreed how much they will pay towards financial redress,” he said. “Taxpayers would be absolutely horrified to learn that Fujitsu executives are trying to bend the rules around bidding.”

Fujitsu recently said 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”.

Byrne also demanded Fujitsu make an offer to pay towards financial redress, rather than waiting until after the public inquiry, which is the current government-backed position.

Carl Cresswell, director of business resilience at the department for business and trade, recently told MPs demanding Fujitsu commit to a payment that now is not the best time to agree to a figure as the public inquiry is ongoing, and revealing information all the time.

During a recent business and trade select committee hearing, he said: “If we were to agree a sum of money now and then the public inquiry were to find something material that could effect that negotiation, I think it would be wrong of us to reach a pre-emptive agreement on behalf of taxpayers when the situation might change because of the inquiry.”

But Byrne wants Fujitsu to make an offer now. “They have admitted they have got a moral obligation to contribute,” he said. “I think the government has said they have to wait until the outcome of the inquiry before negotiating exactly how much, but I think Fujitsu could put an offer on the table now, and they shouldn’t be allowed to bid for any government work until that bill is settled.”

Children of scandal victims

One promise that Fujitsu has full control of, but is yet to meet, is sitting down with a group set up by the children of scandal victims. In March, Paul Patterson, the supplier’s head of Europe, agreed to include the group’s founder, Katie Downey – daughter of Post Office scandal victim Tony Downey – in upcoming meetings.

The Lost Chances for Subpostmasters’ Children group was set up by Downey after she read a Computer Weekly report about Patterson promising to support families of victims, during a hearing in the scandal statutory public inquiry. There are now over 100 members of the group, but no meeting has yet been offered by Fujitsu.

Byrne said it is essential that Fujitsu sticks to its promise.

“It said it has a moral obligation to contribute,” he said. “They are a big employer, they have contracts paid by taxpayers that run into the billions, and when people make mistakes and do things wrong they have an obligation help heal the pain as well as to pay the bill. The very least they can do is sit down with Katie and her group to explore what they could do.”

Computer Weekly asked for an update on when Patterson will meet the group, but Fujitsu did not respond.

Internal documents leaked to Computer Weekly revealed that Fujitsu is spending heavily on managing the current Post Office scandal TV drama fallout. It has sought external support in a project known as Holly, where it has engaged PR, ethical business experts and lawyers, at a cost of £27m so far.

• 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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