Earlier this week I spotted a job advert for a Senior Legal Counsel at the Post Office, reporting to the Post Office’s Head of Legal specifically responsible for matters relating to the statutory Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry.
The Post Office has recently been hauled over the coals by politicians for rewarding its Chief Executive and senior leaders tens of thousands of pounds in bonuses for their work on the Inquiry. This is an Inquiry set up, remember, to work out how and why the Post Office wrongly prosecuted hundreds of innocent Subpostmasters, many of whom are still fighting to get appropriate compensation for the wrongs visited upon them. Today’s hearing was dedicated to investigating just how badly the Post Office had been disclosing information to the Inquiry.
After public and parliamentary outcry into the initial Bonusgate, (not to mention the utter bemusement from within the Inquiry) Nick Read, the Post Office CEO handed back part of his bonus, apologised profusely and commissioned a report written by Amanda Burton, the new Chair of the Post Office’s Remittance Committee (RemCo). The government comissioned its own report, by Simmons and Simmons. You can hear the interview I conducted with Read about this here. Burton’s report declared:
“Any variable pay schemes going forward should not include any metrics relating to the Inquiry.”
So. On scrolling through the terms of the Senior Legal Counsel job (which closed on 31 August), I noticed that as well as a “Generous pension contribution” and “Car allowance”, the Senior Legal Counsel working on the Inquiry would also get an “Up to 18% on target bonus opportunity.”
The successful applicant would be working on the Inquiry team, “formed within Post Office to resolve certain legacy issues [that’s one way of putting it] facing Post Office in connection with its dealings with Postmasters”.
The specific job role involved: “working with the Head of Legal and a dedicated team of Senior Inquiry Counsel individuals supporting all legal work realting to the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry.”
So very much an Inquiry-specific job. With a bonus opportunity attached.
I drew attention to this apparent anomaly on social media two days ago. The same day I asked the Post Office how the bonus offer for working on the Inquiry squared with its statement making clear that any “variable pay” schemes should not include any metrics relating to the inquiry. I asked for the bonus metric for this job and how it would be measured. I am still waiting for a response, however, I was intrigued to see it brought up by counsel to the Inquiry, Jason Beer KC, at today’s hearing into disclosure issues.
I suppose it was a good time to mention it. After all, Beer was cross-examining Diane Wills, who would be the new Senior Legal Counsel’s boss.
Beer noted the job role and asked: “Is that new post… as has been reported in the media, to be paid in part by reference to a bonus?”
“Yes,” replied Wills.
“And what is the bonus metric?” he asked.
Will replied: “Post Office like many organisations runs a bonus scheme to which its senior professionals and management are entitled to participate in which has business-wide objectives which are set for the whole organisation which include things like financial targets. The [Inquiry] team is entitled to take part in that in the same way that other parts of the Post Office are. In the current scheme and in any future schemes there are no metrics directly related to the Inquiry.”
“So that lawyer and other lawyers – is this right – are not being paid bonuses that are related to their performance in inquiry work?” asked Beer.
There was a pause.
“I think we have to look at it at two levels.” Wills blustered. “First of all there is a decision which is taken by the remuneration committee as to whether or not the corporate-wide objectives have been met, and that triggers the entitlement in principle to payment of a bonus. At a team level… there are personal objectives for each member of the team which are focused on – in the inquiry team – support for the inquiry. Their performance is then looked at in the round at the end of the year, looking at what they’ve delivered in what context with what standards of behaviour etc. Higher levels of performance could lead to the achievement of a higher bonus award. But the decision has to be taken in the first place that it’s payable at all.”
In other words, yes. Despite the massive outcry, the questions in parliament, the publication of two formal reports, the Chief Executive being forced into a series of grovelling and humiliating apologies, the Post Office is still offering bonuses to its staff for their work on the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry. Of course it is.