The Post Office
January 10th 2024
I share the sense of anger and frustration about the manner in which the Post Office has treated some of its loyal and honest Postmasters and Postmistresses.
The seeds of the deception were sown under the Blair/Brown administration and persisted throughout the Coalition Government formed between the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties under the supervision of the the Liberal Democrat Minister Ed Davey. The incoming Conservative government then took over the management of the issue and it is clear that successive administrations of all political persuasions have failed to take robust and appropriate action at the appropriate time. I think that it is also clear that with the separation of Royal Mail and The Post Office Counters businesses Government, while the single shareholder in the latter, found itself in the unhappy position of being responsible for a still-nationalised business run at arms length and without adequate oversight.
That said, and notwithstanding the communications difficulties generated during the pandemic, I know that a new Business Minister, Paul Scully, worked hard achieve a resolution of problems which had deliberately been obscured and the scale of which is still emerging
Subsequently, the current Minister responsible, Kevin Hollinrake, has spent two hours at the despatch box this week responding to Members individual queries. From the Minister`s statement and answers, and discussions on the floor of the House and with Ministers it is plain that this administration is determined to seek justice for those adversely affected and to hold those, within the Post Office and Fujitsu who have been responsible for disingenuous statements to account. Kevin Hollinrake has also indicated very clearly that he believes that the former CEO of the Post Office, Ms. Paula Vennells, would be well advised to hand back her CBE and I cannot recall, in forty years in parliament, a Minister taking such an unequivocal line over such an issue.
Noting that there appears to be a well-orchestrated `38 Degrees` campaign against Ms Vennells (for whom I hold no brief whatsoever) I am surprised that few questions appear to have yet been asked of her predecessors Adam Crozier (subsequently the CEO of ITV) or of `Dame` Moya Greene, the Canadian businesswoman who received large sums of money for preparing the Royal Mail and Post office for separation and part -privatisation.
I am gratified to note, however, that one of the aspects that has emerged from the television mini-series screened last week is that Parliament has consistently sought entirely to do its job and considerable credit should be given to James (now Lord) Arbuthnot, the Labour MP Kevan Jones and the former Conservative Minister Sir David Davis for their part in continuing to maintain the profile of this issue in the House.
I hope and believe that these sad events will be brought to a reasonably swift and satisfactory conclusion. There are matters of law involved that the Justice Secretary is seeking to find ways of resolving in order to try to speed up a process of exoneration of the innocent that is at present taking far too long and I am confident that if anyone can find a way through this minefield then Alex Chalk, whose legal talents are second to none, will do so.
None of us is in a in a position to pre-empt the judgment of issues that may already be or will become before the courts and no amount of compensation will ever recompense those whose lives, livelihoods and homes have been lost as a result of a disgraceful sequence of events that should never, from the beginning, have been allowed to happen. Those of us in Parliament do, though, have a duty to right these wrongs insofar as is possible.