Further extension to controversial Post Office contract with Fujitsu inevitable

Post Office is seeking software developers as it replaces the controversial Horizon system from Fujitsu with an in-house alternative

A further extension to the Post Office’s contract with Fujitsu is inevitable due to the complexities of the project to replace the controversial software at the centre of a scandal deemed to be one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in history.

One source told Computer Weekly it could be several years before a Horizon replacement is ready, so a contract extension had to be on the cards.

When Computer Weekly asked the Post Office about suggestions the contract would be extended, it said: “It is of overriding importance that it is fully fit for the future and, as you would expect, we are therefore keeping timescales under continual review and having appropriate conversations with our shareholders, government and our current supplier Fujitsu.”

But things are progressing. The latest update sees the Post Office seeking software developers to work on its Horizon replacement project in new contracts worth up to £75m over three years. Accenture and Coforge are the main development partners. 

A tender shows the Post Office seeking developers for financial analysis, accounting and procurement software as part of its in-house New Branch IT (NBIT) project. The Post Office is responsible for the programme but is using developers to bolster its resources. The Post Office also has a significant number of IT developer jobs listed on its career opportunities site.

Horizon, the retail and accounting system currently used in Post Office branches, was introduced in 1999 to replace mainly manual accounting practices. Originally from ICL, which was acquired by Fujitsu in 2002, it was rolled out across the Post Office branch network from 1999.

But Horizon’s introduction led to a sudden increase in subpostmasters reporting unexplained shortfalls in their accounts, for which they were blamed. The Post Office told each of them that nobody else was experiencing problems and covered up the computer errors. This led to what is known as the Post Office Horizon scandal.

In April 2021, the Post Office announced that it was preparing for the end of the Horizon agreement with Fujitsu, adding an extra year to support its transition to a new system. In May last year, it set 2025 as the target date for the completion of the project.

In December 2023, increasing costs and a lengthening timeline forced the government to hand the Post Office an extra £103m towards its project to replace the controversial Horizon software used by thousands of subpostmasters.

A Post Office spokesperson said: “Working in collaboration with subpostmasters, we are continuing to drive forward and expand pilots for the introduction of a new system that is fit for the future across our 11,500 branches. We are determined to get this right, and with such a large network, significant testing and assurance are of overriding importance ahead of full roll-out.

“We are also investing to ensure the successful continued operation of our existing technology, providing our postmasters and customers with continuity whilst we develop the new system.”

The Post Office is piloting system developments at a small number of Post Office branches. These include a branch in Aldwych, London – which is next door to the ongoing public inquiry – and one in Leeds, according to a source. The number of branches will continue to be expanded this year and the Post Office will soon start showcasing the system directly to subpostmasters in their local regions.

The Post Office scandal was  first exposed by Computer Weekly in 2009, revealing the stories of seven subpostmasters and the problems they suffered due to the accounting software  (see timeline of Computer Weekly articles about the scandal below).

• 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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