Recent extraordinary announcements regarding the career path of Paula Vennells, CEO of Post Office Ltd (pre-partum) are no doubt linked. First a CBE, then a call to advise the Cabinet Office now hastily followed by news of her departure to the position of Chairwoman of a NHS Trust paying less than 10% of her current salary.
Let’s be clear that this is a humiliating exit for her from her beloved Post Office but she had to go in the face of mounting criticism of her handling of the claims of hundreds of subpostmasters that they had been victimised during her reign in charge. More importantly though, the rationale in her effective dismissal is understandable. A fresh face was needed to be able to handle the aftermath of the JFSA court case, where clearly the subpostmasters involved are now going to win substantial damages. Ms Vennells ‘ stubbornness in not listening to the aggrieved, making no attempt to investigate for herself their claims and hence not establishing the real truth for herself, left her well and truly exposed and allegedly complicit in what may turn out to be a massive cover up reaching well up the hierarchy of the Civil Service.
Notwithstanding the obvious links to her dismissal from the court case, she has totally destroyed the Post Office network under the project known as Network Transformation. She certainly transformed it. She single-handedly destroyed the brand and at a stroke wiped out billions of pounds worth of investments by the very people who ran the network for her, the sub-postmasters. These subpostmasters are applauding her dismissal and can’t wait for her to go. The future for them looks a tad brighter this morning, not so for Ms Vennells, who will not escape further consequences from her actions during her period at the top of the Post Office.
Many of her actions will come back to haunt her but I think the one that will stand out at the top of the pile is the decision to dismiss Second Sight who were investigating the claims of the subpostmasters and who were getting too near the truth for comfort. Their dismissal and the subsequent revelations in the court case will surely lead to a judicial enquiry where Ms Vennells involvement in this whole sorry mess will be exposed. Ignorance is no excuse. I told her what was going on in her company (although she would hardly be expected to listen to someone as unimportant as I, she did acknowledge my emails to her) and Second Sight clearly did as did countless others, most notably Alan Bates at the JFSA.
The words ‘beyond belief’ are used frequently to describe the revelations at the Post Office, and they will be used even more frequently once the next trial starts in a couple of weeks time. I imagine that the sequence of events that led to Ms Vennells’ dismissal started when Post Office received the first batch of witness statements and disclosed evidence from the JFSA legal team. I would have liked to have seen the face of POL’s QC when he first saw what he was going to be up against in court. Surely he must have indicated to POL that he was on a hiding to nothing. Which would lead very quickly to a decision having to be made about settlement with the claimants before all is revealed to the public. Paula Vennells’ could not be involved in any such settlement given her vociferous but wholly unwarranted denial that there was any merit in the JFSA claims.
So that leads to the choice of her successor. Tim Parker has said they will look at an interim replacement which makes sense as the calibre of person required to sort out the mess after all is revealed will want to know the extent of the mess before making a decision to join the company. The interim appointee will be able to use Ms Vennells and her team as scapegoats and may be able to clear out much of the top level management that endorsed Ms Vennells’ actions over the last few years. The person appointed will be able to negotiate a fair settlement and start the process of ensuring such a fiasco never happens again. It will be difficult to find an impartial temporary replacement and perhaps impartiality is not a prerequisite. It may need to be someone who understands what has been going on and the reasons behind that. Ron Warmington of Second Sight would be my preferred candidate. He can ensure that the investigation he started is completed and he can compile a report for the permanent replacement showing what needs to be tackled. Someone coming in cold will have the obvious problem of reliance on the existing staff to tell him or her what the real truth is and as we know now, the real truth is something that completely escaped the attention of Ms Vennells.
Whoever it is that is appointed I wish them good luck and trust that they put in place a new Post Office, founded on trust, truth, and disclosure to the benefit of all subpostmasters and not the misguided aspirations of Civil Servants.