Why the Japanese company behind the postal scandal is still getting taxpayer money
Indeed, the company has won government contracts worth around £3.5bn, while criminal prosecutions of Fujitsu staff who supported the Post’s warped crusade have been conspicuously absent.
Founded in 1935, Fujitsu is worth £58 billion and its UK arm had sales of £1.3 billion last year, around a quarter of its total outside Japan. Most of its UK revenue comes from public sector contracts, mostly for large computer systems similar to Horizon.
As the government became increasingly dependent on Fujitsu’s expertise, its interest in prosecuting its personnel who testified that Horizon was indeed infallible remained decidedly weak.
Britain is a key market for Fujitsu and government ministers are also keen to safeguard the 7,000 jobs created by the company, which prides itself on “building trust in society”.
Facing pressure from the House of Lords over Fujitsu’s role in the scandal, government spokeswoman Baroness Bloomfield appeared to concede in March that the company would face at least some sanctions.
“Fujitsu is no longer a preferred government supplier; like any other business, it can bid for contracts,” she told her peers. Yet Fujitsu has won public sector contracts worth £3bn since 2013, with more than half of that value awarded in the past five years, according to Computer Weekly reporter Karl Flinders.
Fujitsu declined to comment on its involvement in the Horizon scandal or the billions of pounds in public contracts awarded to it after the scandal came to light.
Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom is unconvinced by Fujitsu’s “trust” slogan. He has long campaigned to get Fujitsu and the Post Office to book the Horizon scandal, dating back to when he was a local MP fighting to vindicate a wrongfully accused Deputy Postmaster in his constituency.
“It is conceivable that some people in the post office – and indeed some government ministers – did not know that Fujitsu was altering the accounts, but it is obviously absurd to suggest that Fujitsu itself did not know what it was doing”, he said.
Alan Bates, president of the Justice For Subpostmasters Alliance, agrees. The group sued the post office on behalf of 550 victim deputy postmasters, forcing the state-owned company to back down after a fierce battle in the High Court.
“I have no doubt that over time it will emerge from [Sir Wyn Williams’ statutory] investigation, the police investigation and for that matter, that many senior executives at Fujitsu had been well aware of the problems in the system for many years,” he said.
Hopes for accountability hinge on this judge-led investigation — or, as the Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance describes it, the “Post Office is Incredibly Guilty Horizon IT Inquiry.” While some might excuse the Alliance for expressing strong opinions given what its members endured at the hands of the Post Office, what was meant to be an exercise in accountability has been plagued with controversy.
In its original form, the Williams Inquiry did not have the statutory power to compel production of documents from companies such as Fujitsu and call witnesses to testify. That was reversed last June, but its first watery incarnation signaled ministers wanted it all to go quietly.
Fujitsu itself was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions by High Court judge Mr Justice Fraser in 2019. He questioned ‘the evidence of Fujitsu employees’ provided in support of the post office prosecution , although Lord Arbuthnot said it appeared ‘nothing’ had happened since. A police investigation would have been opened, but with few public results to date.
The Horizon scandal first broke in the 2000s, but its roots lie in one of the government’s first private finance initiative contracts awarded in the mid-1990s. In its original form, Horizon was designed to the Department for Work and Pensions to replace paper benefit books with a ‘fraud free’ swipe card system.