Mr Bates v Post Office part 2 - a very poor procurement

The Westminster Tradition

06-02-2024 • 31 mins

Why was the Post Office's Horizon IT system so error ridden in the first place?

And is the false conviction of nearly 1000 postmasters really Tony Blair's fault in the end? (Spoiler alert: probably not.)

In this episode, Caroline takes us through why Horizon was probably doomed from the start, with Post Office and the Benefits Agency shackled together to buy an ICT system through an elaborately structured, too clever by half Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Among other things, we talk about the role of first ministers and Cabinet in resolving disagreements between portfolios with genuinely different interests; the impossibility of outsourcing political risk; and the challenge of working out the truth when everyone you speak to has an agenda.

  • Harriet Harman, Minister for Social Services, February 2018 letter to PM Blair can be found here.
  • Geoff Mulgan's December 2018 minute to PM Blair can be found here, and his reflections after appearing at the Inquiry can be found on his blog here.


Opening grab from Lord Alistair Darling, former Chief Secretary of Treasury, 29 November 2022.
Subsequent grab from Sir Geoffrey Mulgan, former civil servant No. 10 Downing St, 2 December 2022.

For thorough and detailed coverage of the Post Office Scandal, start with the reporting of Nick Wallis, including his BBC podcast, the Great Post Office Trial.

Now for some appropriately bureaucratic disclaimers....

Those of us in the employ of the State Government speak in a strictly personal capacity, consistent with the Public Sector Code of Ethics that permits public servants to promote an outcome in relation to an issue of public interest - in this case, the betterment of the public service.

Nothing we say should be taken as representing the views of the Government or our employers.

While we have tried to be as thorough in our research as busy full time jobs and lives allow, we definitely don’t guarantee that we’ve got all the details right.

If you want rigorous reporting on Robodebt, we recommend the work of Rick Morton at the Saturday Paper, Chris Knaus and Luke Henriques-Gomes at the Guardian, Ben Eltham at Crikey, Julian Bajkowski at The Mandarin, and of course, the Robodebt Royal Commission itself.

Please feel free to email us corrections, episode suggestions, or anything else, at thewestminstertraditionpod@gmail.com.

Thanks to PanPot audio for our intro and outro music.

'Til next time!

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