UK

Post Office campaigner Alan Bates tells Government to ‘get on and pay people’

Mr Bates gave evidence to the Business and Trade Committee on Tuesday.

Alan Bates gave evidence to the committee on Tuesday
Post Office court case Alan Bates gave evidence to the committee on Tuesday (Sam Tobin/PA)

Former subpostmaster and lead campaigner Alan Bates has told MPs that the Government should “get on and pay people” amid continued fall-out from the Horizon IT scandal.

Mr Bates told the Business and Trade Committee that the Post Office should be “sold to someone like Amazon for £1” as he described the organisation as a “dead duck” that is “going to be a money pit for the taxpayer in the years to come”.

The campaigner led a group of 555 subpostmasters who took the Post Office to the High Court over the scandal, which was settled in December 2019.

His story recently became the subject of an ITV drama titled Mr Bates vs The Post Office, starring actor Toby Jones.

The Post Office revealed to the committee that it has had another 1,000 claims for financial redress since the series aired last month.

Alan Bates gives evidence to the Business and Trade Select Committee
Post Office Horizon IT scandal Alan Bates gives evidence to the Business and Trade Select Committee (House of Commons/UK Parliament/PA)

Chief executive Nick Read said he does not believe anyone at the company was told by the Government to slow down the payments of compensation to subpostmasters.

Mr Read also told MPs the correct legislation must be put in place if “mass exoneration is the right thing” in relation to convicted subpostmasters – adding that the process “may well” result in guilty people being absolved.

The Post Office boss, alongside chairman of the remediation committee Ben Tidswell, remediation matters director Simon Recaldin and Horizon and group litigation order IT director Simon Oldnall, all denied they are “untouchable”.

Mr Bates told the committee on Tuesday that he had considered getting all the former subpostmasters involved in the initial High Court case to “stand as MPs when the next election comes”, adding: “Then we’ll sort it out once and for all.”

Questioned on whether he believed the Government had got a grip of the redress process, Mr Bates said: “No, I’m afraid not – it’s very disappointing.

“This has been going on for years, as you well know, and I can’t see any end to it.”

Mr Bates was also asked about whether he believed it was a mistake that Government statements about forthcoming legislation did not propose any measures for those who joined him in the High Court case against the Post Office.

He told MPs: “I don’t know what you can do other than remove the whole scheme from Government itself … and try and do it elsewhere.

“We keep coming back to this time after time after time – pay people.

“There’s a lot of distractions, a lot of other things brought up, thrown up all the time – but just get on and pay people.”

Asked whether he believed that any change of chairman or chief executive at the Post Office would change how the organisation approached financial redress for subpostmasters, Mr Bates told MPs: “I think over the years I’ve been dealing with Post Office, the culture has always been Post Office.

“It hasn’t changed, it’s been the same for donkey’s years – it will not change and you cannot change it.

“My personal view about Post Office is it’s a dead duck and it has been for years, and it’s going to be a money pit for the taxpayer in the years to come.

“You should sell it to someone like Amazon for £1, get really good contracts for all the serving subpostmasters and within a few years you’ll have one of the best networks around Britain.”

In the first panel to give evidence to the committee, a senior civil servant said it is “completely incorrect” to say that ministers have been pushing to go slow on paying out compensation to subpostmasters.

Carl Creswell, director of business resilience at the Department of Business and Trade, said ministers and senior civil servants wanted to pay out money faster.

It came after former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton – who is giving evidence in Parliament later on Tuesday – claimed he had been told to delay payouts to subpostmasters affected by problems with the Horizon computer system.

It opened a row with Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch, who accused him of spreading “made-up anecdotes”.

Post Office director Mr Tidswell said Mr Staunton showed “somewhat erratic” behaviour late last year.

Mr Staunton stepped down from the Post Office amid ongoing tensions last month.

Former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton arrives at the Houses of Parliament
Post Office Horizon IT scandal Former Post Office chairman Henry Staunton arrives at the Houses of Parliament (Lucy North/PA)

Since then he has claimed that in a meeting with former Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) permanent secretary Sarah Munby he was told to “hobble” into the next general election, according to notes reported by The Times newspaper.

Mr Creswell said that he had been told that other Post Office board members would resign should Mr Staunton not be removed. “I was told that explicitly,” he said.

He said there were two main allegations that influenced Mr Staunton’s removal, first that he had tried to stop a whistleblowing investigation into his conduct and the second that he was “trying to stop” the process to recruit a new board member.

The Horizon IT scandal saw more than 700 subpostmasters prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.