Horizon scandal: Calls grow for Fujitsu procurement suspension

MPs from across the house have expressed incredulity that major contracts have been awarded to the tech firm in recent years – despite widespread knowledge of its faulty Post Office system

A growing number of MPs from across the political spectrum have called for Fujitsu to be suspended from public procurement processes in light of the Post Office Horizon scandal.

Following the recent broadcast of a major TV dramatisation, there has been growing interest in the scandal, in which a faulty IT system developed by Fujitsu led to almost 1,000 sub-postmasters being wrongfully prosecuted for fraud or false accounting.

The increased attention has included growing focus on the Japanese tech firm and questions over the extent to which it has been held accountable for its central role in one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British legal history.

Former cabinet minister David Jones said: “I have no idea why the government is continuing to give Fujitsu contracts”, according to the Guardian. Another high-profile Conservative, David Davis, suggested to BBC Radio 4 that he “would certainly suspend any possibility of new contracts” until the tech firm has answered key questions about the part it played in the fiasco – in particular concerning the extent to which staff may have remotely accessed and amended data in Horizon terminals in local Post Offices.

Former MP Lord James Arbuthnot – a long-time and vocal supporter of the campaign for justice for victims of Horizon – told the Sunday Times: “I can’t understand why a company that behaves in such a devious way is still winning contracts.”

From the other side of the house, Labour MP and chair of the Commons Business and Trade Committee Liam Byrne said “ministers cannot and must not reward further failure… it’s vital there’s now a moratorium on new contracts for Fujitsu until we’ve got to the bottom of this terrible miscarriage of justice”, according to the FT.

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Questions have also been raised directly in parliament, with Tory member Mark Francois yesterday asking: “Should we not review all [Fujitsu’s] government contracts, and if it will not do the right thing—which it should—should we not consider suspending them?”

The prime minister and the Cabinet Office have yet to comment on the likelihood of a review of Fujtisu’s role in public procurement, or the possibility a suspension.

A spokesperson for the IT company said: “The current Post Office Horizon IT statutory inquiry is examining complex events stretching back over 20 years to understand who knew what, when, and what they did with that knowledge. The inquiry has reinforced the devastating impact on postmasters’ lives and that of their families, and Fujitsu has apologised for its role in their suffering. Fujitsu is fully committed to supporting the inquiry in order to understand what happened and to learn from it. Out of respect for the inquiry process, it would be inappropriate for Fujitsu to comment further at this time.”

After being implemented across Post Offices in 1999, the first media reports of bugs with the Horizon system were published in 2009. Following another decade of campaigning by sub-postmasters and their supporters, in 2019 the High Court awarded damages of £57.75m to a group of 555 claimants – although about four fifths of this money was needed to reimburse legal fees.

Most victims of the scandal are yet to be compensated, and the vast majority of wrongful convictions are also yet to be overturned.

The matter has not prevented Fujitsu from winning significant amounts of government business, including spots on massive frameworks and multimillion-pound deals with individual organisations.

Its current engagements include: a four-year £6.3m contract to support the Cabinet Office developing a major new government-wide platform to support on-boarding and transfers of civil servants; a £52m deal IT services agreement with HM Revenue and Customs; a £25m agreement for to serve as Bristol City Council’s “digital strategic partner”; and a £44m contract to support network integration for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Sam Trendall

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