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Blacklisting Fujitsu from competing for business in Wales ‘legally questionable’ – First Minister

16 Jan 2024 3 minute read
L: Mark Drakeford – (Image – Dominic Lipinsk. R: Post Office (Image: Aaron Chown)

Emily Price

Blacklisting the company responsible for the faulty IT system involved in the Post Office scandal from competing for business in Wales could be “legally questionable”, the First Minister has said.

During First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday Mark Drakeford was pressed on the Welsh Government’s links to Fujitsu – the company that designed the Horizon IT system which led to hundreds of sub-postmasters being convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

The Japanese company’s accounting software was eventually found to be faulty in a landmark 2019 court ruling.

The scandal – which took place between 1999 and 2015 – has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in UK history

The Welsh Government has been linked to at least two multi-million-pound public procurement contracts secured by Fujitsu, one in 2011 and another in 2019 which is still ongoing.

Plaid Cymru MS, Delyth Jewell has called for “comprehensive review” of corporation’s future public procurement contracts.

Review

Questioning the First Minister, Ms Jewell said: “Transport for Wales awarded a five-year contract in 2019 to Fujitsu, the company that designed Horizon; it’s been extended to April 2026. Now, until yesterday, the Welsh Government hadn’t disclosed how many other active contracts exist between the Welsh Government and Fujitsu.

“Could you tell me if you are now reviewing those contracts in light of the public outcry relating to what’s happened at the Post Office? Concerns about the Horizon scandal were well known well before Toby Jones took on that television role.

“What consideration was given to those concerns before that contract was awarded? Much more crucially, will lessons now be learned? If Fujitsu are found guilty of deliberate corporate abuse, will they be blacklisted from getting any future contracts, because that’s something, I think, the public will want to know?”

The First Minister responded saying blacklisting a company was “legally questionable” and should be “weighed up very carefully”.

He said: “I’m not sure what the legal basis could be for preventing an entirely legal company from competing for business in Wales on the basis of a failure in one part of their operation, serious as that failure certainly has been.

“In future, we will continue to abide within the rules that cover public procurement here in Wales. Blacklisting, I think, is both a legally questionable course of action and would have to be weighed up very carefully in the circumstances of any individual procurement case.”

Fujitsu Europe director Paul Patterson faced a grilling by MPs on Tuesday alongside Post Office boss Nick Read, as public and political anger continues over the Horizon scandal.

The boss of Fujitsu apologised to subpostmasters and said there is a “moral obligation” for the technology giant to contribute to the compensation.


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oatmaster
oatmaster
1 month ago

As it stands, what Fujitsu did was perfectly legal and wasn’t the basis of any dispute between them and the Post Office, which defended the performance of Fujitsu’s software hundreds of times in court. In which case, I can’t immediately see what legal basis there might be to exclude them from any tender process.

hdavies15
hdavies15
1 month ago
Reply to  oatmaster

PO management may have covered up the defects of Fujitsu’s Horizon system. They certainly didn’t interrogate the supplier or this debacle might have been prevented sooner with a lot fewer collateral victims. The fact that Fujitsu managers and PO managers both failed for so long suggests that neither party should be trusted with anything more than a one way ticket to the scrapheap.

oatmaster
oatmaster
1 month ago
Reply to  hdavies15

I completely agree, I just don’t believe there is any legal mechanism to disqualify them from the public tender process.

Connoisseur of Understatement
Connoisseur of Understatement
1 month ago
Reply to  oatmaster

Is a legal mechanism necessary? A purely commercial mechanism would be to award contracts to suppliers who agree to make their software (and perhaps even their hardware) open to audit. Horizon is, as far as I know, closed source, but the value of open source software in public administration is already recognised, even by the usually clueless UK government. Open hardware is a thing too. If you google alphagov github, you will find that a handful of believers in transparency have miraculously infiltrated the UK government and set an example of how things should be done, i.e. pay coders for… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Connoisseur of Understatement
oatmaster
oatmaster
1 month ago

I’m sure there are commercial rather than legal ways to exclude certain contractors but the point that Drakeford made still stands that you would be open to legal challenge if a tender explicitly excluded Fujitsu and you’d also be on slightly shaky ground if a tender was constructed in such a way to effectively exclude Fujitsu. And in that case, Fujitsu could easily decide they’d be able to make more by suing and winning rather than bidding and losing. I’m sure open source could solve some things but it’s not the solution to everything. Being open to audit doesn’t mean… Read more »

Jeff
Jeff
1 month ago

Sort of thought it was the case. You put stuff out to tender, beware that people with deep pockets can take you to the cleaners if you do not abide by your rules, and the UK rules. Stinks, but them the breaks here I fear. Personally I would make sure the contracts are cast iron in favour of Welsh Government, you can bet anyone bidding for contracts have their legal teams go through it carefully, just hope governments do the same. Problem here is the law allowed the PO to make it hard for anyone to stand up to them.… Read more »

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