Duty of Care

With the Misra Case Trial Transcript being published and the recent error we have found in Horizon it has led me to have a look at the law surrounding duty of care.

Wiki states the following:

The leading judicial test for a duty of care in England was found in the judgments of Caparo Industries plc v Dickman,[2] in which the House of Lords set out the following three-part test:

  • Harm must be a “reasonably foreseeable” result of the defendant’s conduct;[3] [4] [5]
  • A relationship of “proximity” must exist between the defendant and the claimant;
  • It must be “fair, just and reasonable” to impose liability.

 

POL clearly has a duty of care to its subpostmasters.  It does not need to be written in to the contract for that duty of care to be challenged in the courts, should someone consider POL to be negligent in their duty in this regard.

Harm – which can be economic harm – is of course reasonably foreseeable.  We know for instance that errors in Horizon do arise from time to time – for instance the recent Lottery Quickpick mess – that gives rise to SPMR liability to POL.   POL respond to their duty of care here by informing all branches that the error exists and that they will fix it.   They advise branches that they will not incur any financial liability to POL as a result.

There is of course a relationship of proximity between POL and the SPMR and that cannot be argued.

And then it must be fair just and reasonable for a SPMR to seek redress from POL under their duty of care responsibilities.

So this leads us to unexplained losses.   What exactly is POL’s duty of care with regard to these?   Is it fair that POL do not accept any responsibility for these?  Is it just that they should? Is it reasonable to expect that they should have some responsibility for identifying where these errors have occurred rather than placing the burden on the SPMR?

At the end of the month a SPMR balances his books and finds that he is £500 down.   He reports his balance to POL and immediately becomes liable for that amount to POL regardless of how it was caused.

Is that fair?  Does POL not have a duty to assist the SPMR in determining what has happened to the money?  Is that not a reasonable thing for them to do?   How can POL be certain that a computer error did not cause the losses?   How can POL assist the SPMR to make sure it doesn’t happen again or help the SPMR track down the person who has ultimately gained from the SPMRs loss?

Lots of questions.

In the Misra case, and no doubt others, the Judge and the prosecution were very clear on this, it was the SPMRs responsibility to identify errors caused by the computer if they existed.   I could and have said a lot about that being a wrong assertion, however, if it is the case that SPMRs are responsible for identifying computer errors and bringing them to the attention of POL for correction (after all it was presumably a SPMR who told them about the Lottery Quickpick example – God only knows how that slipped through testing)  then failure to identify a computer error when it happened that later went on to affect hundreds of branches could lead to the ridiculous situation that a SPMR could be held liable (under duty of care) for NOT identifying it and reporting it to POL.

Now that’s what I call unreasonable and ludicrous to boot.

Both the current error I have discussed on this blog as well as the error several years ago in Calendar Square Falkirk which was mentioned in the Misra trial tell us that when intermittent computer errors occur, identified by the SPMR and notified to POL, POL do not communicate these to the rest of the network and wait many months before releasing a patch to fix the error.   Now that is totally unreasonable.

In the current error that is waiting to be fixed in March next year, I know that Fujitsu have not identified the cause of the error.  They should be aware of this but they are not.  POL know that Fujitsu will ‘fix’ it in March and I presume they will fix other errors at the same time that SPMRs may not know about.  So what happens between now and then?   If a SPMR takes £24k out of the safe and hides it away somewhere and blames its absence on a computer fault what happens then?

What can POL do?   The answer is absolutely nothing.  Assuming the SPMR declares the actual cash balance so not to be guilty of false accounting then POL do not have a leg to stand on.  They can’t go to court relying on the SPMR contract because all the SPMR needs to do is to show that POL are sitting on an error that they haven’t told him about and when the details of the error come out in court it will be shown that Fujitsu don’t even know what caused it to happen in the first place.  SO they cannot imply the SPMR should have identified the fault when it happened because even Fujitsu couldn’t when they knew exactly where and when to look!  Totally absurd.

What POL should have done is another matter.  Right from the start of introducing an unreliable computer system into the workplace of the SPMR they needed to change the contract and the way they operated.  They could no longer rely on the contract to pass all risks on to the SPMR.  They had to incorporate protection for themselves in much the same way as they incorporate protection for themselves in the case of robbery.

There had to be some form of due care responsibilities allocated to the SPMR so that all losses could be investigated.   These responsibilities could have included the use of CCTV covering all places where value stock was handled and transactions took place and the storing of the footage for a relevant time.    Sounds familiar?   That is exactly what POL does at its Cash Centres.   Why there and not at branches?   A good question I think.

There is more they could have done but that example alone is proof that in order for POL to escape the onus of fair, just and reasonable in the provision of duty of care, they had to change their ways when the computer system was introduced and they did not.

 

 

 

 

My Answer to the Conundrum (part 1)

Hi

Thanks to all of you who contributed to the debate most of which was concluded on the CWU Postmasters Facebook page.   Some great premises of how the conundrum could be explained.   As I mentioned, there may well be several different explanations but here is mine – particularly worded to provide a background to perhaps a further debate on whether the original conviction should be overturned or not?

Let’s start with the last event where the error was discovered.   It was a particularly hot day, but any of you who have lived and worked in a hot environment will know that when the ambient air temperature is 40C plus you don’t actually notice much of a difference whether the temp is 41C or 49C because you are in shade most of the time and at those temperatures the air is most often still and dry.

The checkpoint where the truck was stopped was only a few hundred yards outside the factory.   The scales used in this temporary weighbridge were calibrated that day and in that heat.   They were also of a different manufacturer from the weighbridge in the factory.   When the truck was stopped and found to weigh 45T the driver told them he had just had it weighed and it showed 35T.   SO the police took the truck back to the factory and sure enough the weighbridge registered 35T.   It was clearly in error.    An investigation took place.   All digital weighing devices have to allow for the ambient heat in their calculations and the heat sensor was tested and working fine.   The software however revealed the problem.  The programmer for the manufacturer was from Scotland.   He had no idea that ambient temperatures could go over 40C but nevertheless he allowed for a maximum of 45C in his algorithm (canny bugger!) Unfortunately the ambient air temperature that day was 49C and the algorithm was such that it resulted in the weight being calculated far lower than it actually was.

Realising the previous instance of this error had caused a fatality the Police looked at the temperature records at the time of that incident.  They found that that day the ambient air temperature at the Factory was 49C but the day after when the truck was brought back to weigh the temperature was only 42C.  Thus the weight was recorded too low on the day of the accident but completely different weight the very next day.

Who was at fault here.   Australia is the land of the man who sued God after all.   Was it the programmer?  Was it the weighbridge operator for not calibrating the weighbridge every day even though the manual said it was only needed to be done once a month?   Was there a contract involved?  Did the weighbridge manufacturer provide warranty?  What would happen if the warranty had expired?   Was the driver still liable because he should have tested the efficacy of the weighbridge everytime he used it?

Lots of questions and this time I have no real answers but would be happy to join in a discussion on it.

Cheers, Tim

 

 

Weekend Conundrum

Hi

Below you will find a conundrum of sorts.  The story itself is hypothetical and I am looking for a rational but obviously hypothetical explanation of how the events described could have come to pass.   There may be more than one perfectly reasonable explanation but I have written the story with one of my own in mind.  The only clue I can give you is that my explanation is linked to the current Horizon scandal.

A few years ago …..

Every day in a small town in South Australia, an HGV leaves a small factory with a trailer loaded with product.  Before it leaves the factory the trailer is weighed to ensure it does not exceed the 40 tonne limit.

On one particular day a driver hooks up his lorry at the factory and proceeds to the weighbridge.  The weighbridge operator checks the weight with the driver and they agree it to be 35 tonnes.   The lorry driver continues on his journey and 500km down the road is involved in a fatal collision caused by his truck failing to stop in time and crushing a stopped car in front of it.   The police are called.  They inspect the lorry and the trailer is taken to a local weighbridge to be checked.  It is found to be 45 tonnes – 5 tonnes overweight.

The driver is adamant that the factory weighbridge gave him a weight of 35 tonnes so the next day the police transport the trailer to the original weighbridge and weigh it again.  It shows 45 tonnes.   The driver then points out to the police the sealed doors on the trailer.   He asks them to check the CCTV images of his lorry being weighed.   The CCTV reveals nothing out of the ordinary and the weighbridge operator confirms this.

In court the driver was found guilty.  It was assumed that somehow he placed an additional 10 tonnes of product in the trailer – perhaps from another factory that was on the way – and resealed the trailer in some way to prevent detection.  It was the only reasonable explanation.  The weighbridge scales at the factory had been tested and calibrated by the police and found to be in order.

Three years later, an identical situation arose.  A trailer leaving the factory had been weighed at 35 tonnes and when stopped by the police at a checkpoint was found to be 45 tonnes.

The police then realised what had happened three years earlier.

What unlikely event(s) occurred that caused the difference in weights measured to happen?

As a secondary question, was the first driver still culpable or was he exonerated from his original conviction?

Please post your answers here – I think they will really help us get to the bottom of the Horizon issue in more ways than I can reveal just now.

I’ll post my solution later in the week and explain the relevance.

Cheers, Tim

PS one additional clue – both events happened in Summer

 

 

 

The Computer Weekly Article

If you haven’t seen it already you can read it here … http://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500257572/Post-Office-IT-support-email-reveals-known-Horizon-flaw

It reveals more about POL and their attitude towards Subpostmasters and those that seek the truth about the unexplained losses incurred by Subpostmasters around the country on a daily basis.

CW provided POL with details of the error that has been documented on this blog for comment.

What they got in reply was this …

Quote …

The Post Office’s head of communications, Mark Davies, said: “We look at any and all issues raised with us through our channels. Obviously if any postmaster calls our service lines with a query we look at it, as you’d expect. The issue has been raised with us through our normal channels (postmaster contact to service centre) and answered through those channels.”

Computer Weekly also asked the Post Office several questions about the contents of the Atos email to understand if the two problems were the same or separate. The Post Office said: “We will not be commenting on this issue any further other than to say that the Post Office takes its responsibilities towards its postmasters extremely seriously and wholeheartedly rejects any suggestion to the contrary.”

End Quote ….

Well what did this genius of a communications head actually say … more to the point what didn’t he say?

LET ME BE VERY CLEAR HERE – HE DID NOT DENY THE ERROR EXISTED NOR THAT FUJITSU WOULD PROVIDE A SOFTWARE FIX FOR IT IN MARCH NEXT YEAR.

He said POL look at these problems.   What he didn’t say was if they actually do anything about them.   If he had investigated the problem raised – a very serious problem or perhaps £24k isn’t serious enough for Mr Davies to bother about – he would have found that ATOS had advised they had found a problem in Horizon that gave rise to this error.   Not only that, Fujitsu were going to fix it in March next year – 4 months while the problem is still out there waiting to catch SPMRs and lose them money.

Mr Davies goes on to say that POL takes their responsibilities towards its postmasters extremely seriously.   Wow – really?   He will need to define those responsibilities for us then because clearly they don’t include the responsibility to advise the SPMRs that an identified fault in HOL is out there and if it affects them they could well lose money as a result.

Mr Davies clearly has not looked into this matter very closely.   He says the SPMR contacted POL through the normal channels.  Well I suppose this is actually correct but what he doesn’t seem to realise is that those normal channels didn’t work.   The SPMR in question had to rely on a CWU forum to get the correct advice and eventually a ‘private’ number in Chesterfield to call.

The CWU though took the appropriate action and advised their members of the problem and what to look out for.   Mr Davies does not comment on this action either which is interesting.

Nor, in a change of tact from previous utterances by this mouthpiece of POL, does he deny that the problem does not exist.   He doesn’t, according to the article, spout forth about the fact that HOL is robust and handles x million transactions per day so it must be perfect.

It is frankly appalling behaviour and leads me to conclude that there fast approaches the time when POL management are going to be held to account, not only for their actions but their inaction.   The question then is will they be held to account by the courts and will this happen through the civil courts or the criminal courts?

The not so funny thing about all of this is that we have reached the stage where the error is not the main issue here any more or the losses it could create for SPMRs.  It is how POL have handled it or not handled it as the case may be.

My last question is Why?   Why are POL doing this – ignoring a serious problem within their organisation?    Do they honestly believe it will go away?  Do they think they actually know what the problem is that caused this particular issue?   They cannot know that because then they would need to know what I have found out in addition to what was revealed in Computer Weekly.

This next paragraph is extremely important so POL if you are reading this take note … I don’t imagine you will grasp its significance …. yet.

Alternatively do they think it appropriate that this bug that they have wrongly identified needs only be ‘fixed’ in March and that their ‘internal systems’ will pick up all instances of it occurring between now and then?  Well unfortunately they can’t do that – because they can’t identify when the error actually occurs they can only look for the effect of the error in their transaction logs.  That effect is not unique to the error that causes it so they don’t and cannot have any way to say what has caused it.

But maybe they know all this already?   They have placed themselves in a position over the last few years when defending accusations over the unreliability of HOL that they cannot come out and say – Ooops it was all a mistake – we should have listened – we should have realised.   Are they protecting themselves in all of this?

That is a conspiracy theory too far.  Too many people are involved for this to be a cover up.  A whistleblower would have come out of the woodwork by now.   I think it is all down to plain and simple incompetence which to me, based on my experience dealing with POL, is a very logical conclusion.

 

 

Are RMG now pulling the strings at POL?

I wrote a blog recently about the choices Moya Greene at RMG had now she was free from the shackles of direct Government control.   I mentioned the new 2D label printing process as an example.

On reflection – having come across an interesting RMG web page about these new labels ( http://www.royalmail.com/business/help/preparing-your-mail/getting-barcode-ready-frequently-asked-questions ) it seems to me that Moya may have already been using some muscle on POL before the last Government owned shares in RMG were sold.

You see the introduction of these labels came as a ‘surprise’ to the SPMR network a couple of months ago.   A trial they said – to see how it goes.  SPMRs were (still are) furious about not only the extra work but the imminent withdrawal of the ability to print multiple labels of the same value that has saved them time in the past when processing multiple items that require the same postage label.   No indication of any additional payment for the extra time involved in entering the post code for each parcel.

But all this started years ago and POL would have known about it.   The RMG website says that RMG would be ready to accept these new labels from October 2015.   Well let’s think back a bit about that.   The equipment required to scan these labels would have had to be ordered and installed in good time.   Say a year for that.  A selection process – possibly a tender – would have been required – at least 6 months.  A budget for the purchase would have to have been approved – another 6 months.  A feasability study, a policy decision and an initial concept – all these would have taken time – say another year.

So at least three years ago RMG would have committed themselves to this new process.   POL would certainly have been told along the way – when? who knows.   As I mentioned in my earlier blog – one of the benefits to POL of this new process is that it adds value to their part in the posting of parcels and perhaps strengthens their ties to RMG through the MDA.

Trouble is nobody told the SPMRs – forget the NFSP – they are totally irrelevant in the whole process now – what better example than this to prove that.

SPMRs now want more pay for performing the extra work involved.  Fair enough you might think.  But consider this – the costing for this project was completed 2 to three years ago.  If there was to be additional payment to POL for providing this ‘extra’ then that deal would have been done at that time in order to include it in the budget.

Look again at the RMG website page (above) and see that RMG say that once this system is fully operational it will actually cost them more to process non 2D labels and a surcharge may be likely!   Mmm I suspect that non compliance/branch standards will soon become an issue here.  (once again POL have not given that any thought – shoving stamps on a parcel may become a more cost effective solution for SPMRs!)

But … I actually think the use of the 2D label is a great idea and I can see it being extended eventually to letters.  It does add value to the service that Post Office can provide.   It will certainly result in a more efficient process for RMG and a great transformation in customer service – imagine all postal items being tracked!   At a stretch of the imagination I could see the day when stamps become a thing of the past and labels are required on everything.   This would lead to a bigger demand on the Post Office service and the network would remain a key integral part of the Postal Services infrastructure of this country.

The RMG website gives us another clue about how RMG are now pulling the strings.   For several years now – particularly since the separation of POL from RMG, RMG have been ‘pinching’ Post Office bulk customers.   plenty of reports of RMG approaching these customers directly with enticing offers to save money by dealing with them direct.   My guess is that this has largely gone unchecked – primarily because once a customer has left the branch to go direct with RMG – they are unlikely to go back.   CABPost of course would welcome this as long as the consumer benefits and in any case what can POL do about it?   I am sure I have read somewhere that there were restrictions on doing this placed on RMG by POL in the MDA but are POL really going to upset their largest customer?

I get the impression that RMG will now do all they can to secure these bulk customers from POL – it makes sense to them and the customer.   POL just don’t have a leg to stand on anymore.

A new direction is called for – a new agreement – I hate to say this – A memorandum of understanding perhaps – between POL and RMG – maybe even an ‘integrated’ ownership solution.  Then again – do we need POL in its current form any longer?

More on this to come ….

 

 

 

 

Leaving the EU – The Binary Consequences

Off my chosen subject this morning but after watching Question Time last night it got me thinking that politicians once again are ignoring, and not debating, the crucial consequences of the result of the forthcoming Referendum should we choose to leave the EU.

Surely there are only two consequences.   The UK either benefits from doing so or it suffers.

If it is seen that the UK benefits from leaving the EU then that in turn has a disastrous effect on the future of the EU.  It will surely lead to its ultimate collapse as other countries either leave or threaten to leave.   Threatening to leave will provide them with as much if even more political leverage to negotiate a better deal for their country, so ultimately the collapse of the EU is almost certain.

But more importantly I think, for the discussion that is going on now in the UK, is the consequence should we suffer as a result of choosing to leave,

Knock, Knock?   Can we come back in please?   We have been a bit silly, will you forgive us?

The bargaining power that David Cameron has now prior to the referendum will have disappeared.  Terms will be dictated to us by them – not the other way round.  Sure they will want us back but on terms that could even include having the Euro.  Rather unpalatable I would say.

Its a stretch of the imagination probably but I equate Cameron’s leverage now to the Corbyn Trident Deterrent issue.   Cameron has a loaded gun at the EU’s head and promises to use it (give me what I want or I will campaign to leave).   In QT last night the other politicians round the table derided Javid for not being able to say which side he would campaign for.   Well if the Tories did decide prior to the outcome of the negotiations which side of the Referendum fence they were on then that is akin to putting a blank in Cameron’s loaded gun – the ‘deterrent’ would be meaningless.

I don’t know which way I will vote in the referendum yet – I will be most persuaded by successful businessmen I think.  The EU is all about Trade really and the regulation of it.  It is what will determine whether we are to succeed or fail should we leave the EU.  The businessmen will know better than I how it will affect us all.  Is the risk of leaving and failing worth a gamble?

What’s Wrong with a bit of Competition?

It seems to me that both Post Office Ltd and Royal Mail Group PLC are missing a bit of a trick.

Historically of course they had no competition.  You wanted to post a letter or a parcel then you had to go to the Post Office.

But times have changed.   Competition is rife in Mails as well as in Bill Payments, another POL product that has seen increased competition over the last couple of decades.

A punter now with three home shopping returns and three bills to pay could have to visit several different shops to complete his transactions – and be infuriated in the process – yes you can pay that bill here but we don’t do TV Licences.  Retailers now become travel advisors to these customers – Post Office for your Amazon sir, Newsagent for your Hermes and COOP for your TV Licence – oh yes and you can pay your council tax bill here of course.

The POL Network Transformation project boasts how the increased footfall of having a PO in your shop will more than recompense the loss of retail floor space.   What they don’t tell you is the loss of footfall when you have to agree to get rid of your Paypoint and Collect+ operation.   You can’t have competitors products sir when you have a PO.

And its not just POL.   The other parcel companies don’t want you offering their competitor’s products and Paypoint won’t tolerate Payzone in the same shop.

Yet these service company’s own customers are happy – in the main – for more than one of the bill payment companies to supply their customers.

All rather bizarre when we consider that the current buzz word in retailing is convenience.

Just what would happen if a store could offer all or any of the services that these competitors provide?

And here is the trick that POL and RMG are missing.   It’s the sign above the door.  It says Post Office.  No other outlet can say that – copyrighted you know!

A consumer with a parcel to post would go immediately to the Post Office if they knew no matter how the parcel was ultimately shipped they could rely on it being dealt with at the Post Office.  It’s the name you know!  A dead give away say I.  And of course vice versa.  What is the point of ‘convenient’ parcel collection points when you might have to visit three different ones to get all your goodies.

If the same consumer could pay all their bills at the Post Office surely that would be their destination of choice?   May not be in the name but the brand has always been linked to money.

More footfall, more income for the retailer.  Maybe less income for POL but in the end a successful and viable business selling their products – and that is what they desperately need.

For RMG and the other delivery companies – surely a compromise is possible.  POs collect for all, RMG collect all from the POs and deliver them to the courier companies from a centralised location.  Not just economic savings to be made but also a much greener solution.

The customer of course gets at last a choice of delivery options based on price, quality and service.   All delivered to them by a professional subpostmaster who gets to see at last a financial reward on his investment.

Makes sense to me….

The Dalmellington Error in Horizon

The Dalmellington Error

Several of my previous blog posts have alluded to an error in the Horizon system that was discovered recently.   I now need to document in detail what transpired.   Last week Computer Weekly ran a story highlighting the fact that the CWU Subpostmasters Section were so concerned about this that they wrote to all of their members warning them to be vigilant as this error could occur at any time and result in unexplainable losses at their branches.

I have written to Paula Vennells on two occasions about this error yet she has failed to respond.   This is a very sad reflection on her competence to manage a large organization such as POL.

Seemingly unknown to Paula, internal documents I have seen from POL not only acknowledge the error but incredibly they admit they will ensure it does not happen again by releasing a software patch to Horizon in March of next year!   There is more to this admission than meets the eye which I will attempt to explain later – but for the moment I would like to point out that in my opinion they don’t know what caused the error so how they are going to fix it in March would be extremely interesting to know!

Timeline of Events

8/10 Sub postmistress sees that Horizon has replicated the same transaction she has just entered three additional times.  The value of the transaction was £8k.  The result of the 3 replicated transactions meant her branch accounts as calculated by HOL had £24k more in cash than actually existed.   At that moment in time, because of the SPMR contract she had signed, she was liable to POL for £24k.  £24k that never existed.

8/10 Sub postmistress requests help on a Facebook site from fellow subpostmasters.  Advice given is to call the help line and report the problem.   She does this – note that this is an error of £24k –  and according to the sub postmistress the help desk advise her that it must be a “system” problem and to call the technical support team.   It is shocking to think that an SPMR calling in an error of such a significant amount is handled by front line help desk support and not immediately passed up the line to senior management to check.

8/10 Sub postmistress calls the technical help desk and reports to the Facebook group that they did not understand the problem.   They state that it will ‘probably’ be rectified remotely.

8/10 The CWU Subpostmasters branch emails the Service Manager at ATOS with details of the problem and asks for assistance on behalf of the member.

9/10 Sub postmistress reports to the Facebook group that no one has called back from POL help desks.  Note that is still an error of £24k  – is this such a common occurrence of such a large amount that everyone in POL back office ignores it?

9/10 the ATOS service manager replies to the CWU saying that he asked someone to look into it.

12/10 The sub postmistress receives a brief call from ATOS stating that they are looking into it and she should receive a call from NBSC.   (I’m not sure if she ever did get that call)

13/10 FIVE days after the error occurred and after close of business the sub postmistress advises the Facebook group that no one has called back.   This results in another member of the FB group suggesting that she contact directly a person in the Financial Services Centre (FSC) that has helped her with a SIMILAR problem in the past.

Without access to this Facebook group who knows how long it would have taken POL to get back to her if at all.   It’s £24k for goodness sake.  Cash that does not physically exist but the sub postmistress remains liable to POL for £24k in Physical cash!

13/10 CWU reminds ATOS that nothing has been done about the error

14/10 an early morning discussion on FB discloses worrying similarities between previous Horizon errors that had to be corrected manually by the FSC for other FB subpostmasters.

14/10 later the sub postmistress phones the contact at the FSC and explains the problem (6 DAYS AFTER £24k WENT MISSING). The person from the Cash Currency Stock Control Team finds the transactions that have caused the error and attempts to ‘fix’ the problem in Chesterfield.   Unbelievably he explains that he was not able to do this because the branch where the error occurred does not have a ‘unique’ number! WOW!  He advises the sub postmistress to ‘move’ the missing money from the branch where the error occurred to another of the sub postmistress’s branches.  He would then be able to ‘fix’ the problem centrally.

The sub postmistress quite rightly refuses to do this as it would be a fraudulent transaction.

What is extremely worrying at this stage is the nonchalance of the FSC .  They seem unconcerned about how the error occurred and even less concerned about the amount involved.

The FSC however allegedly admits in the phone call to the SPMR that he had dealt with a similar case only the week previously.

14/10 I send email to Paula Vennells telling her of the problem.

15/10 CWU send a detailed synopsis of what has transpired so far to ATOS and the complete lack of action on the part of ATOS to resolve this matter.

19/10 Sub postmistress reports on FB that the matter still has not been resolved.  From a financial viewpoint I understand this to be down to the need to get a unique code allocated to the branch.   Quite utterly bizarre that it can take this long to do that.

23/10 CWU receives email from ATOS “explaining” what has happened and how they are going to make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.   This email is the most damning piece of evidence that I have ever seen that confirms these people have no idea what they are talking about and by ‘these people’ I refer to POL, ATOS and Fujitsu.

Subsequently to receiving this email we tested exactly the same scenario in another branch which was identical in all respects to the one in which the original error occurred.  We tried everything we could to replicate the error and could not.

The email suggests the ‘root cause’ of the error occurred because of a process that simply could NOT HAVE HAPPENED in this branch.  It goes on to suggest that they have had the same error in other branches so what in effect they are saying is that they have a similar error that they have not fixed but they have failed to realize that this is a completely new error.   It could not be the same as the one they describe because it is not physically possible for it to have happened in the way they describe.

They say they can prevent this happening again by a code fix that they will introduce into Horizon next MARCH!  This is frankly unbelievable.   We tested the same transaction in an identical branch without the error occurring.  We tested the same transaction in the same branch without the error re-occurring.  What on earth are they attempting to fix here?  How can they fix something that they don’t know what causes it to happen?

WHY oh WHY oh WHY does a £24k discrepancy not ring alarm bells and if the code change (whatever they are going to fix) is not going to be released until next March WHY oh WHY of WHY do they not inform the network (in their own words – across the whole estate) that this error can occur and watch out for it.

The Sub postmistress eventually received a transaction correction for the missing £24k and then successfully completed a similar transaction to the one that she had noticed the error on.   As the Sub postmistress commented on Facebook – prior to the error she had performed the same transaction hundreds of times previously with no error.

There could be no clearer indication that the error that caused this to happen was an intermittent error.

Intermittent errors can be caused by many things, including an unlikely sequence of events or even faulty hardware.  It should be noted that no engineer has visited the branch in question to perform checks on the hardware

3/11 CWU Subpostmasters branch after carefully checking and double checking the full facts of this case issue a warning email to its members to be on the lookout for such an error.

3/11 I send another email to Paula Vennells pointing out to her that she needs to get personally involved in this chain of events.

5/11 Computer Weekly publish a front page article highlighting the memo that the CWU felt necessary to send out to their members.   Computer Weekly asks POL for comment but POL re-iterate there are no errors in Horizon (the POL PR team blissfully unaware that an error is to be fixed next March)

Conclusion

There can be no other conclusion here than Fujitsu, ATOS and POL do not have a clue as to what is going on in their respective organizations.  No doubt POL will respond and say that their internal systems would have picked up this error in due course but the fact is that they did not automatically do this.  It required manual intervention – in this case by the CWU – in order to get to the bottom of this matter.

Very importantly, even if POL can show that their internal systems would pick up such an error (they can’t but that is another story) this particular event shows a serious delay in that occurring.  In this case the delay was only a few weeks before the missing amount was credited back to the SPMR but during that time the SPMR was liable to POL for the amount in error.   Past court cases brought by POL against SPMRs for account discrepancies have relied totally on the contract the SPMR has signed with POL to show that the SPMR is liable for these unexplained errors.

While the amount in this case is significant and should have rang larger internal alarm bells than normal, nevertheless the actual amount could just as easily have been more than £24k or as little as £1.   The erroneous transactions were entered by the computer system and not the operator.  In this case there were three duplications but there could have been far more as well as being only one.

The error in this case was easily spotted by the operator but could just as easily have been overlooked.   The discrepancy in the branch accounts may only have come to the attention of the SPMR several weeks later and would have been incredibly difficult to find.  The amount of the discrepancy would have been a multiple of the original transaction so searching through transaction history for the amount of the discrepancy would not have shown anything.

The FSC employee reported that he had dealt with a similar case only the previous week.  Just how many of these errors are out there?  The system did not automatically flag these erroneous transactions as causing discrepancies that required manual intervention.  How are they located?

The explanation from ATOS is utterly incredible.   We noticed immediately that the reason given for the error could not have happened in this particular branch.   How on earth did Fujitsu and Atos not realize this?   The explanation also gives cause for concern in that they readily admit it occurs across the network and they have seen previous instances of it – nothing at all to do with the error we are talking about – so another error exists that SPMRs are unaware of?

Fujitsu believe that they will fix this error in March – yet they have not informed the network that the error exists.  This is almost criminal given that these errors can give rise to unexplained losses to SPMRs that the SPMRs themselves are liable for.

There is no doubt that this error is intermittent.  It didn’t happen before when the SPMR entered the same transaction on to the system and it did not happen after the event when she repeated the transaction.  It did not occur in another similar branch when we tested the same set of events.

By their own admission, both from Fujitsu (although they may have been talking about another similar error) and the FSC, this error has happened before.  They do not know, they cannot know, when the error first started as they have not identified the cause properly.  It could go back to the very start of Horizon in 2000 for all we know.

I wrote to Paula Vennells twice about this error and she failed to respond.   What sort of chief executive would not investigate such a serious problem – one that totally contradicts the oral evidence she provided to parliament on the reliability of the Horizon system.

There are no excuses.  This is undeniable evidence of both systemic failure within the software system itself but also failure in the internal procedures within the POL organization.  Failures that many people, including politicians and the media have highlighted for many years.

Are POL truly unaccountable?

Who can do something about this?

The Trade Union Bill

Going off my chosen subject for a bit and looking at the Trade Union Bill currently going through Parliament.

The proposed requirements on voter turnout and support percentages for key services ballots are completely unnecessary in my view.

Why on earth the government sees fit to introduce these is beyond me and will only lead to strife if the legislation is passed.

Eyes Wide Open Approach

A worker seeking employment must do so with their eyes wide open.   They apply for the job so they must be aware of what they are applying for and the terms and conditions of any offer made to them.   If by taking the position offered the worker finds themselves qualified to join a Union, whether or not he does, he must realise that the terms and conditions of his employment have been negotiated previously by the Trade Union.   He is receiving the benefits of the past work of them.   If then in the the future having taken up employment, he disagrees with the Trade Union he remains perfectly free to join them and argue his case.   By not joining he surely is agreeing by default with the Trade Unions stance.

Disenfranchised?

If you are a member of any organisation or indeed just of voting age, then you have a choice to either vote or not.  If you don’t use your vote then you can have no complaints afterwards that your views weren’t considered.

The Trade Union bill insists that there must be at least a 50% turn out of eligible voters before any ballot can be declared valid.  40 years ago, when the closed shop was still in practice I would have agreed with that measure.   But it isn’t.  You are free to join and vote or not as the case may be.   Failure to vote whether enfranchised to do so or not can only be construed as consent.

“Qui tacet consentire”

The NFRN – a better choice for Subpostmasters?

When Mark Baker and Nippy Singh left the NFSP back in 2011 as protest against NT and the Postal Services Bill, they were welcomed by the CWU who helped them set up a subpostmasters branch within that organisation.  At the time it was a good arrangement as collectively they could voice their concerns about the proposed changes as well as providing shelter for disenfranchised former NFSP supporters.

However with the CWU came the presumption that this was a left wing trade union not really the choice for independent businessmen.   I think that feeling alone has caused many Subpostmasters not to join the CWU, while they support the views and aims of the CWU Subpostmaster’s branch.

Earlier this year, George Thomson, the General Secretary of the NFSP held talks with both the CWU and the NFRN about a possible merger in light of falling membership and the need to maintain his salary.   I don’t think either organisation could afford him so he ended up teaming up with POL.  POL will now pay the membership fees of subpostmasters and George will keep his salary.   So of course the best interests of his membership will be served.

A good example of this is a recent post on a forum by Ian Park of the NFSP negotiating committee.   I can’t repeat it here but basically he says that as far as the new Label Printing process goes, POL just did what they wanted to do.   He says both sides have agreed that the extra work will be paid extra but he has no idea what that will be.   Oh really?   Isn’t he the chair of the negotiating committee for the NFSP and hence all subpostmasters?

In the July edition of the NFSP magazine Thomson outlined the rational behind the join up with POL (I guess he omitted to mention his salary) He said, “new operatives were not joining the NFSP because of the retail nature of their business: “They’re asking themselves why, if their shop makes £20k a week and their post office makes £10k a year, would they need to join an organisation that primarily deals with post offices? For them the future is retail.”

The agreement between the NFSP and POL brought restrictions placed by POL on the NFSP.  I think Ian Park summed it up nicely “There are restrictions in that we are not allowed to damage the Post Office, but that is not something we would seek to do now.”

Nuff said George.  Thanks for the tip.   It seems to me that the NFRN, while not a perfect fit is far better suited to represent the interests of subpostmasters.   I guess the ACS is also a suitable candidate but they already represent their subpostmaster members at a very high level.

Perhaps the time has come for the CWU Subpostmaster’s branch to look at a more suitable partner than the CWU.  While I would not break the ties completely – hopefully any transition would be a friendly one – I think the NFRN would bring more to the table than the CWU can provide and the NFRN membership could benefit from the input and support from a very active subpostmaster group.

Worth a thought? – I think so.