Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious.

The above box appeared in the Post Office’s 2021/2022 Annual Report, which was not filed at Companies House until 24 February this year (and published a week later on the Post Office website). The box was part of a section of the annual report entitled “Remuneration Outcomes”. In this section, we were told the Post Office has scrapped its LTIP (Long Term Incentive Plan) and STIP (Short Term Incentive Plan) bonus schemes, (which saw former CEO Paula Vennells suffer a net salary reduction of a whopping £800 (to a measly £643,800) for her role in the scandal. More on this here).

The Post Office’s new executive bonus plan is called the Transformation Incentive Scheme. This pot of bonus money, generously provided by the taxpayer, would be awarded to the board and senior execs at the Post Office in return for meeting targets in four equally weighted areas.

One of those areas was headed “Inquiry”.

That’s right, Post Office executives were in line for bonuses based on how brilliant the Post Office had been at the Public Inquiry into the Post Office Horizon IT scandal. Or in corporate speak:

“Delivery of all the required information and support for the Horizon Inquiry satisfying the requirements of Sir Wyn Williams [the retired judge who chairs the Inquiry]… and to ensure processes for Postmasters are addressed in line with recommendations from the inquiry. Any actions or plans must have been endorsed by the Inquiry and the Board.”

Venal

Did no one at the Post Office think it might be a bit crass to award themselves bonuses for belatedly coming clean about its role in literally taking money with menaces from innocent people? Especially as, behind closed doors, it has apparently been trying to argue those innocent Subpostmasters should walk away with as little compensation as possible, and taken so long making those arguments, 59 people have died waiting.

Not only did the Post Office set up this metric, it did so without informing the Inquiry.

And then, as you can see above, the Post Office declared it had achieved its target with the words: “All required evidence and information supplied on time, with confirmation from Sir Wyn Williams and team that Post Office’s performance supported and enabled the Inquiry to finish in line with expectations.”

False accounts

Unfortunately not a single word in the above statement is true.

Subpostmasters’ representatives at the Inquiry have already made comments about the Post Office’s late disclosure of documents. The Inquiry, last time I looked, had not finished (it’s now expected to go on into next year). Worst of all, the idea that Sir Wyn Williams and his team had confirmed anything was a straight-up fabrication.

A company’s Annual Report is a very important document. It is signed off by the Chairman and Chief Executive and filed at Companies House. It takes months to prepare, and requires considerable input from both the financial and legal side of the business. I don’t know if all board members have to read an annual report before it is published, but they should.

Did no one who wrote or went over a draft of the report spot the very, very basic error about the Inquiry being finished? Are any members of the board, senior leaders or lawyers watching the Inquiry, or reading media reports about it?

And what about the idea that “Sir Wyn Williams and team” have confirmed the Post Office have done a bang tidy job with regard to the Inquiry and should therefore fill their boots with public money? How did someone come to… just make that up?

Meaningless screed

Sir Wyn Williams, Chair of the inquiry

The line was spotted by, or brought to the attention of, a diligent lawyer working for the Inquiry, Segun Jide. On 31 March, a month after the annual report was published, Mr Jide wrote, on Sir Wyn’s behalf, to the Post Office.

Mr Jide asked the Post Office lawyers, Herbert Smith Freehills, to: “explain the basis upon which the assertions were made that Sir Wyn Williams (“and team”) has confirmed that (a) the Post Office has supplied all required evidence and information to the Inquiry on time; and / or (b) that the Post Office’s performance supported and enabled the Inquiry to finish in line with expectations”

A week later, Herbert Smith Freehills responded that the Post Office (or POL, as it likes to call itself): “wishes to apologise to the Inquiry for setting a target that appeared to require the Chair’s participation without asking Sir Wyn for his agreement to that, and for reporting against that target by suggesting the Chair and his team had given input into a particular outcome when they had not.”

The report’s assertion that the Inquiry had finished was apparently some kind of drafting error, with the excuse that: “At the time the target was set (in December 2020), it was anticipated that the Inquiry may have substantially completed its work during the period covered by the Transformation Incentive Scheme, which is why the target as drafted anticipated the Inquiry having “finished in line with expectations” although POL accepts that this was not reviewed when it became apparent that the duration of the Inquiry would be longer.”

I’ve read this paragraph several times now and I still can’t understand it, nor how “finished in line with expectations” can be a target. Whose expectations? Why expectations? It’s just meaningless screed.

Media management

Lisa Cherry, Post Office Group Chief People Officer 2020 – 2022

Herbert Smith Freehills went on to say: “POL understands that certain materials were reviewed by the then Group Chief People Officer, who relied on them in reporting to the Remuneration Committee that the target had been achieved… POL is trying to identify the documents she relied on. In the time available before writing, POL has not been able to locate this material.”

Maybe they’re in the shredder.

Yesterday, a full month after the Herbert Smith Freehills letter, the Post Office quietly appended a statement to its corporate web page hosting the 2021 – 2022 annual report. There was no press release, no fanfare, no ministerial statement, just a note recognising the falsehood, including the paragraph:

“We implied that Sir Wyn and his team had agreed to this sub-metric [what they’re now calling the bonus target] and had commented on the outcome. We wish to clarify that we did not ask for Sir Wyn’s agreement to the wording of this sub-metric and Sir Wyn and his team did not give any input into assessing whether it had been met. Post Office apologises unreservedly to Sir Wyn and the Inquiry team for this mistake and the way it was stated in the Annual Report for 2021-22. Chief Executive, Nick Read, has chosen to return the remuneration associated with this sub-metric. The Board of the Post Office is considering the position in respect of other senior leadership beneficiaries of this remuneration sub-metric.”

Burying bad news

As per the Herbert Smith Freehills letter dated 6 April, the Post Office knew it had made a serious mistake in its annual report. I asked a Post Office press officer why it took so long for the Post Office to publicly issue its correction, and why it chose to issue its correction on a Friday afternoon – not just any old Friday afternoon – but one in which the news agenda would be dominated by the local election results and then steamrollered by the Coronation.

NIck Read, Post Office CEO

The press officer told me that it was because the Post Office had spent some time trying to get to the bottom of how the falsehood came about and then it took some time to sort out the relevant wording of the apology and correction.

When I asked for the outcome of their investigation, the press officer told me that the Post Office still hadn’t got to the bottom of it, but I was assured the timing of the quiet correction, on the Friday afternoon before the Coronation, had nothing to do with trying to bury bad news. I politely told them I did not believe what they were saying.

When I asked if the Postal Affairs minister, Kevin Hollinrake, had been informed about the error, the Post Office press officer said: “I don’t know… I should imagine he is now!”

It is entirely possible that this correction would have passed the world by, had it not been for the Post Office Inquiry’s decision to publish the letter the Post Office CEO Nick Read wrote to Sir Wyn yesterday afternoon alongside a note from the Chair which sets out the story. In his letter of apology, Read says:

“I would like to personally apologise to you on behalf of Post Office for the incorrect statement in the company’s Annual Report and Accounts 2021-22, which implies that you and your team commented on the outcome of a remuneration metric targeted at senior leaders involved in the vital task of transformation within the Post Office. Despite the metric making express reference to the role of you and your team in assessing whether the metric was met, Post Office did not seek your or your team’s view on the proposed metric, far less your agreement to it. Moreover, at the point of assessing whether it had been met, despite the unambiguous wording of the metric, Post Office did not seek your or your team’s view. These were both unacceptable errors on our part. As a result I have chosen to return the money paid to me associated with this remuneration metric, and the Post Office Board is considering the position in respect of other senior leadership beneficiaries of this remuneration metric.”

Rotten to the core

I received the email from the Inquiry press team, which pointed journalists to Sir Wyn’s statement, yesterday at 5.41pm. I had to read the relevant documents twice, because first time I could not quite believe what I was seeing. Skimming through the twitter responses, it seems quite a few other people were astounded, too.

Ed Henry KC, at the Inquiry

Ed Henry KC, who represents several Subpostmasters at the Inquiry, said:

“Rotten to the core. Profiteering from the Inquiry into the Consortium’s misfeasance, misgovernance & devastation of loyal workers. This must be raised in Parliament. How can senior management & board remain in place after this?”

Paul Gilbert, a legal expert who advises in-house lawyers on ethics said:

“What an utterly bankrupt culture. Irredeemably rotten. For someone to even have the idea of monetising the Inquiry is shocking, for everyone else to go along with it shows a vacuum of dignity and decency, and then to lie about it… My goodness me, what a contemptible way to be.”

I’ve asked the Post Office how much Read has given back, what time exactly his letter was sent to Sir Wyn and when, if at all, the Business Department was informed of the false statement in the Post Office’s accounts.

I’ve just been in contact with the Post Office minister, Kevin Hollinrake, who told me “I was made aware of this earlier today [my italics] and immediately asked for a full account of the circumstances, which will inform our approach.”

I’ve also asked the Business Department if they okayed the nature of the Post Office’s apology and correction and why, if they knew about the falsehood, they didn’t tell the minister. I am frankly very surprised something this serious was not announced in parliament, instead of being slipped out on a corporate web-page on a Friday afternoon before a Coronation.

There’s more. Please see Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious 2: What We Know Now, posted up on 8 May 2023.


My work on the Post Office Horizon IT inquiry is largely crowdfunded. If you’d like to contribute, please click on the widget you should be seeing to the right of this text (or below if you’re reading it on a mobile). To find out more before donating, please go to my tip jar web page. All contributors will be added to the ‘secret’ email newsletter, which offers irregular, and at times, irreverent insight into the machinations of the inquiry and the wider scandal. If you’d like to buy my book The Great Post Office Scandal, I would be thrilled – it’s available from all good outlets.

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23 responses to “Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious.”

  1. For crying out loud! We need a Panorama (or equivalent) investigation into this. How, and more importantly why, is it not reaching the mainstream news?

    1. on this occasion it won’t cause of local elections and now king crowning ie perfect time to announce it on the side. but will it stay quiet next week?

  2. Zarayna Pradyer avatar
    Zarayna Pradyer

    Thank you, Nick, for reporting and recording this never-ending scandal.
    On this Coronation Day, one’s mind ponders our traditions and the lessons of history. I’m thinking of the Tower of London, wherein are kept the crown jewels and regalia and also the rack, the implements of torture and the block.
    Although my sympathies go to the victims of this crime, I hope I live long enough to witness justice for them.

  3. Having been a sub postmaster until recently I am not surprised. Nothing at all has changed under Nick Reads tenure. It is still rotten to the core.

  4. Nick Canfield avatar
    Nick Canfield

    POL could stand for PERSISTENT OUTRAGEOUS LIARS.

    Anybody got a spare shredder? Post Office might be wearing theirs out. Has the head of POID collected all the handwritten notes this time? Allegedly that has happened before. To free the guilty from proof of guilt.

    Of course it will be claimed that nobody in PO had any input in producing the bonus metric. Who signed off on its suitability as a bonus metric? Who reported on the metric being achieved? Did nobody stuffing the money into senior peoples pay packets question what the money was for?

    None of those who received the bonus seem to have doubted that they were due the money. (Exception known at this time is CEO Mr Read, but did he only apologise and repay when found out?)

  5. Chris Woolford avatar
    Chris Woolford

    Coronation oaths seem nobut puerile piffle, possibly poisonous too, without justice, very soon, for our unlawfully victimised sub postmasters. Innocent lives were wrecked. Great harm was done. Great harm continues to be done. Outrageous!

    Corporate office holders must be held accountable at law for their conduct that resulted in huge suffering. Nobody is above the law? Show us.

    Thank goodness for Nick Wallis’ dedication.

  6. Rosie+Brocklehurst avatar
    Rosie+Brocklehurst

    CROOKS
    Post Office did bury bad news on a Friday. What they have done is criminal theft by misrepresentation. They delayed their response to Sir Wyn deliberately. Nick Read and management were caught out trying to get their remuneration monies by hook or by CROOK. All the time they had manipulated this financial bonus to themselves, they were making decisions on Post Office Compensation terms that were deliberately slow, difficult and mean coming nowhere near to reimbursing people for the financial ruin suffered. Read and the Board must go. The PO is a basket case and deeply sick.

  7. Julian Le Vay avatar
    Julian Le Vay

    Incredible. But it’s not just the PO. It’s everywhere you look. Our entire public culture has gone terribly wrong

  8. john osullivan avatar
    john osullivan

    I have asked this now on Post Office chat.Good Morning Elliot Jacobs”I’m not sure why you think I’d would know that. It doesn’t sound like a board discussion item…or an I misunderstanding something?”This was your reply to SPM loosing P739 income.Was the payment of Exec. Bonus for(Horizon Inquiry) targets not reached with the implied blessing of Sir Wyn Williams a matter for the Board?What evidence did you see that allowed you to recommend the awards or did you in fact vote against?In your two years at POL Board level has the ethics and morality displayed matched your hopes,exceeded them or been unbelievably lower?#NEDS post office chat is an independent private group for Postmasters, agents & counter staff ONLY and is no way associated with POST OFFICE LTD

  9. 1. As the government is the sole shareholder of POL, presumably it authorised the bonus scheme and the text in the Annual Report. It is not only heads in POL which should roll.
    2. Read apologises for the incorrect statements about the POL’s metric interaction with the Inquiry, but is curiously silent about the underlying actions of the POL in supplying all evidence in timely fashion over the period of the Inquiry. For instance, where is the POL’s version of the audit trail of the requests from the Inquiry to the POL and the response of the POL? We have already seen their various lawyers congratulating themselves on how well they have supplied documents to the Inquiry and earlier court cases. They have had a month, or well over a year, to get their ducks in a row. “Support for the Inquiry was and is a key objective for the business” – is there any more evidence for this statement than about consulting the Inquiry about their metrics?

  10. Christopher Lennon avatar
    Christopher Lennon

    My career in the London insurance market involved high-value claims and litigation management, working with leading firms of solicitors and counsel. After reading this, I have two comments:

    1. My opinion of Herbert Smith, as they then were, pre-merger, noting their fees were among the highest in the City, whereas they were prone to mistakes and their opinions in significant cases were too often not upheld in court, was such that I would never have instructed them in any matter where it fell to me to choose Third Party Advisers (TPAs).

    2. In my view, the Post Office ought to cease their attempts to defend the indefensible with public money and instead negotiate a full settlement of all the cases brought against the Organisation, using those same funds to achieve just results, rather than enriching lawyers..

  11. David Williams avatar
    David Williams

    Nick – thanks as ever for keeping close to this. Just read your Sunday morning Twitter posts.

    Personally I think the bigger deal here is that PO leadership thought it appropriate to reward themselves with bonuses for cooperating with a statutory inquiry into the their causing the biggest miscarriage of justice in UK history. The lying about the Sir Wyn signing off on it is awful, but the fact that the PO’s directors thought paying bonuses is worse.

    All of the PO directors will have known (if they were performing their roles correctly) about this bonus scheme, not just the remuneration committee. The fact that none of them thought this is wrong speaks volumes. They should all be replaced.

    You are right to highlight that the government knew about the bonus scheme through the Tom Cooper role. The fact that the government did not also stop the bonus scheme suggests that they are not paying sufficient attention to what is going on at the PO. Given the government is the sole shareholder, that is not good enough.

    Given the long and tawdry history of the PO’s behaviour my view would be the government needs to be approving all of the directors, and a significant proportion of the directors need to be either ministers or senior civil servants. That should result in both the government paying having stronger accountability for the decision making at the PO, and some people with a more independent perspective stopping the PO doing ghastly things.

  12. Geoffrey Freeman avatar
    Geoffrey Freeman

    Perhaps this explains why the lady in the photo is the former Chief People Officer! And you wonder why Liverpool fans booed the National Anthem at Liverpool’s game yesterday. They know all about such conduct in public life today.

  13. ‘I have chosen to return the money paid to me associated with this remuneration metric’

    What confidence can we have that the other ‘remuneration metrics’ were applied honestly? Perhaps the decent thing to do would be to return the whole bonus or better still contribute it to the Horizon Scandal Fund.

  14. The above comment is very very true. Who is the POL? It is completely owned by the us the uk Government. Who represents us? Our ministers of the Government of the day. In the end the ultimate minister is the Prime Minister..so unless the decision on this matter is taken from the POL Board the travesty will continue. The sooner a minister takes control the better.
    .

  15. […] post should be read in conjunction with its predecessor (helpfully entitled Venal. Incompetent. Mendacious.) Here’s an […]

  16. Shirley Rayner avatar
    Shirley Rayner

    Very much afraid that this attitude permeates too many of the public bodies – from local councils, the police, to the NHS management. Faceless bureaucrats all looking out for each other, lining own and each others pockets, gold-plated pensions, etc. In theory they are accountable but in reality not so

  17. Nevil Ramsden avatar
    Nevil Ramsden

    Sorry, I can’t comment. I’m left utterly speechless and wordless. A bonus? A bonus? What planet are they on? Don’t just sack them. Prosecute all of them.

  18. […] far) attributed to the protracted Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry by the indefatigable investigator Nick Wallis. But, nevertheless, revealing too since it falls a long way short of best or credible […]

  19. […] When it transpired the Post Office had chosen to award itself bonuses for co-operating with the public inquiry into the Horizon IT scandal, it caused something of a storm. […]

  20. […] and others were also doing their best to put things right, and they made things worse.  Nick Read paid himself a bonus for his Inquiry achievements – and only last week it was shown what a fiasco the Post Office has created in the Inquiry […]

  21. It appears that Nick Read repaid some of his bonus amounting to c. £450,000. He began by saying he had repaid £13,000, then corrected himself by saying the repayment was actually £6,000 after making allowance for tax and NIC’s paid on the £13,000. How thick-skinned is this man?

    And why did the MPs who interrogated him not simply ask “If the conditions subject to which the bonus was payable were not satisfied why not return the bonus in full?” This is as clear a case as is possible of theft and false accounting, or fraud by false representation contrary to s. 2 Fraud Act 2006.

    Read and his co-directors who were paid such bonuses should be in prison. Many have been sent there for far less.

  22. […] public and parliamentary outcry into the initial Bonusgate, (not to mention the utter bemusement from within the Inquiry) Nick Read, the Post Office CEO […]

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