FORMER POST OFFICE CHAIRMAN LOBBIED FOR PAY RISE FOR VENNELLS, INQUIRY HEARS

A former Post Office chairman tried to secure a pay rise for Paula Vennells, the public inquiry heard.

Ms Vennells, the chief executive at the time of the Horizon scandal, is thought to have been on a salary of £250,000, with her full pay packet including benefits surpassing £619,000.

Ms Vennells, who held the Post Office’s top role from 2012 to 2019, oversaw a number of pivotal moments in the scandal, which saw more than 900 sub-postmasters wrongfully prosecuted as a result of the faulty Fujitsu software that caused shortfalls to be inaccurately reported on their branch accounts.

The Post Office Horizon IT inquiry previously heard that government officials had considered sacking Ms Vennells in 2014.

A slideshow produced by the government’s Shareholder Executive in February of that year described concerns about her “worrying lack of knowledge” and “poor people management”.

The document also stated that there was “general consensus that Paula is no longer the right person to lead POL (Post Office Ltd) but justification is anecdotal”.

However, evidence given by Mark Russell, a former chief executive of the Shareholder Executive, the organisation that managed the government’s relationships with businesses which it fully or partially owned, suggested the Post Office’s chairman lobbied for Ms Vennells to receive a pay rise less than two years later.

Mr Russell wrote in his witness statement: “My recollection is that when Tim Parker became chair later in 2015, he was positive about Ms Vennells, at least initially.

“One document that supports that memory is a record of a meeting that Mr Parker had with the secretary of state in November 2015 in which he suggested that she deserved a pay rise.”

Sajid Javid, the former Tory MP, was secretary of state for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy – the only shareholder of the Post Office – at the time of the meeting.

At that point Ms Vennells was receiving a salary of £250,000 and an overall package worth £619,752, according to the Post Office’s accounts for the financial year of 2015-16.

Giving evidence last week, Mr Parker – who served as chairman from 2015 to 2022 – told the inquiry he had been advised against apologising for his part in the scandal in oral evidence.

Addressing the public gallery, Mr Parker said: “It is quite interesting because today I was toying with making an opening statement – stand up and say ‘I’m deeply deeply sorry’, as many people have done.

However, he said he discussed the idea with “people”, adding: “And the response I got was that, ‘well, you could do this, but actually, you know, people have kind of got tired of that and it all rings a bit hollow’.”

Ms Vennells, an ordained priest, repeatedly broke down during her three days of questioning in May.

“I would just like to say – and I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this in person – how sorry I am for all that sub-postmasters and their families and others have suffered as a result of all of the matters that the inquiry has been looking into for so long,” she said.

The Shareholder Executive merged into UK Government Investments in 2016 and Mr Russell remained its chief executive for a further three years before stepping down in 2019.

The inquiry continues.

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2024-07-09T18:18:42Z dg43tfdfdgfd