‘Difficulties’ in Post Office governance led me to sack chairman, says Badenoch

Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch  (PA Wire)
Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch (PA Wire)

Kemi Badenoch has said she was forced to intervene over “difficulties” with Post Office governance by sacking its former chairman as the company reels from the Horizon IT scandal.

The Business Secretary would not be drawn on whether there will be other departures from the board of directors after Henry Staunton stepped down from the role on Saturday.

She told broadcasters there needed to be a “change of personnel” and it “just wasn’t working” as the company remains under heightened scrutiny over the wrongful prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters.

“It was very sad that we had to come to this conclusion… and one of the things that I think is important when we do need to have a change of personnel is that we don’t hound the people or go after them,” Ms Badenoch told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips.

“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.

“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.”

Mr Staunton stepped down as chairman of the state-owned business, having only been appointed in December 2022 following nine years as chairman of WH Smith.

Ms Badenoch said she had a phone call with him at the weekend and they had “parted ways with mutual consent”, but later added that she had asked him to go.

He had been tasked with leading the board of directors as the business reels from the fallout of what has been described as the UK’s biggest miscarriage of justice.

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their branches.

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

It comes at one of the most turbulent points in the company’s history, with a statutory inquiry into the saga under way and renewed public anger following its dramatisation in ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office earlier this month.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also announced blanket legislation to exonerate those wrongly prosecuted after the TV series returned the scandal to the spotlight.

On Sunday, Ms Badenoch denied the Government is only taking action in response to the ITV drama, when asked whether she is ashamed of the timeline of decision-making.

“It wasn’t TV that made this happen. It had been happening … The drama is not what has been prompting Government action,” she said.

Asked whether there will be further resignations from the board of directors, she said: “I won’t be making any further comments around personnel changes. I think we need to do this in a civilised way.”

Labour questioned the move to oust Mr Staunton at the weekend and said ministers must explain what had happened.

Shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said: “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.

“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.

“It’s quite unusual to have this in a weekend, but we’ll find out in Parliament next week.”