By Lily Zhou
Henry Staunton has stepped down as the Post Office chairman amid the fallout of the Horizon IT scandal.
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said on Sunday that she had to fire Mr. Staunton over issues around the governance of the Post Office, saying the state-owned business has issues that “go well beyond the Horizon scandal.”
But she declined to comment on whether other board members would be asked to leave, saying she’s not doing “HR on live TV.”
She also said the suggestion that she should resign doesn’t make sense.
Mr. Staunton only took up the post in December 2022, following nine years as chairman of WH Smith.
The government confirmed his departure on Saturday, saying it was an agreement between Ms. Badenoch and Mr. Staunton.
“An interim will be appointed shortly and a recruitment process for a new chair will be launched in due course, in accordance with the Governance Code for Public Appointments,” a government spokesperson said.
Asked whether she had fired Mr. Staunton, Ms. Badenoch told Sky’s “Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips” programme, “Yes, we had a conversation and we agreed that it was better that the Post Office had new leadership going forward.”
The minister said it was “very sad” that they had to come to this conclusion, and stressed that it’s important “we don’t hound the people or go after them” after they are fired.
“The issues that the Post Office have go well beyond the Horizon scandal, so this wasn’t just about Horizon and the ongoing inquiry into the Post Office. It’s about the Post Office as an entity and the governance of it,” she said. “There is a board, there have been disagreements across the board, and my view is that sometimes you just need a different person to deal with different issues.”
Asked whether the government had appointed the wrong man to the job, she said: “I didn’t appoint him. At the time that he was appointed we did not have the intense scrutiny that we have now.”
Asked about the Horizon IT scandal, the minister said she “certainly” expects Fujitsu—the Japanese company that made the faulty accounting software that made it look like postmasters and sub-postmasters were taking money, would pay compensation.
The 20-year scandal saw 950 postmasters prosecuted for a variety of charges from 1999, but many of these cases were later linked to problems in the Horizon computer system. More have been sacked or forced to pay the shortfalls with their own money.
It’s “important that we get to the end of that inquiry to know what should happen,” she said.
“But Fujitsu is a part of this, they are very much a part of this story, it’s not just Post Office management, and I hope that they will do the right thing.”
The minister refused to be drawn on whether there will be other personnel changes at the Post Office.
“I don’t want to do HR on live TV, these are human beings that we’re talking about. It is very difficult to be asked to stand down from a position,“ she told BBC’s ”Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg” programme.
“But I decided that given all of the difficulties the Post Office is having, it’s not just about Horizon, it’s about the entire business model, how we make it work, that we needed someone who could chair a board that was able to deal with these things effectively,” she said.
The minister, who became business secretary in February last year, said she doesn’t think she should resign as well.
“First of all, I don’t think people really understand exactly what the structure of the Post Office is. I am the Post Office’s sole shareholder. So, the shareholder resigning doesn’t make sense,” she said.
On the Horizon compensation schemes, Ms. Badenoch said the government will “move as quickly as possible,” but will not set a deadline because when “you put a date on, people rush, they get things wrong.”
Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds told the same programme that the government needs to explain the decision, which he said is “quite unusual.”
“I mean, the person who’s going wasn’t actually there for the scandal, so there must be specific reasons why they don’t have confidence in that person going on,” he said.
“I think the public will want to know this is not just about one person, one chair being changed, the overall approach and the entire organisation is going to come to terms with the scale of this and put it right, and also fundamentally people want to see the subpostmasters exonerated and compensation got to them as soon as possible.”
PA Media contributed to this report.