inequalityThe problem of leisure, what to do for pleasure?Ideal love, a new purchase, a market of the sensesDream of the perfect lifeEconomic circumstances, the body is good business

When I look back at the recent Tory administrations their sole aim seems to have been remaining in-power, everything else was subordinate to that requirement, especially people.  

Finally, they have run out of road. Johnson’s success in 2019 proves both the electoral attractiveness of populism, which, in turn, is its Achilles Heel. In 2019, he delivered two simple messages; ‘Getting Brexit Done’, and ‘Levelling-Up’. The simplicity and transparency of the messages was cosmetically appealing, and supported by a fawning media very successful. The problem with such a message is that its binary, you either deliver or you don’t. As I wrote in ‘Actions speak louder than words‘; ‘Words get you elected, but your actions either see you re-elected or defeated.’ 

Ultimately, countries are made-up of its people, it is the people who elect the government. If government treats people in a devil-may-care fashion it falls at the first hurdle. The Post Office ‘Horizon’ injustice has hogged the headlines since the New Year, and rightly so, it is the classic example, of people being done down by a combination of misgovernment and big business. There is no better summary of this than the words of Alfie Solomons in ‘Peaky Blinders’; ‘big fucks small‘. 

‘There is no better summary of this than the words of Alfie Solomons in ‘Peaky Blinders’; ‘big fucks small”

One of the astonishing outcomes of the Horizon enquiry is how little senior management seemed to know. Alan Cook (managing director, 2006-2010) wasn’t even aware that the PO oversaw prosecutions of sub-postmasters, Sir Michael Hodgkinson (chair, 2003-2007) knew nothing of the problems with Horizon (and seems to have done nothing to find out). David Smith (managing director, 2010) believed his junior colleagues when they told him Horizon was ‘robust’. 

What doesn’t surprise is that almost every senior witness has told the inquiry that they didn’t pay proper attention to the problem because they were focused on making a profit. Alan Bates, who has done so much to bring the scandal to everyone’s attention, argued that the PO itself is institutionally flawed. 

To date, politicians have successfully foisted much of the blame on to PO executives, however as more is revealed they clearly have much to answer for me, and  it’s now time those questions were asked. 

Todays’  PO is just another example of Thatcherism’s mania for privatisation, and what we have ended up with is a public/private hybrid, combining the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. 

The PO is still basically a public providing mail and government services to communities, sometimes in areas where there is no market incentive to do so. Privatisation meant that the PO should be run as a business, whilst still being wholly owned by the government.  

As a business there is a focus on reducing costs to help increase profitability. Because of this the PO closed hundreds of branches, yet they have still needed repeated bailouts from the taxpayer (£3bn in 2006, more than £1bn in 2010, £640m in 2015 and, recently, up to £1bn to cover the cost of compensation for the Horizon scandal). Part of the Royal Mail Group was sold off in 2011 at a loss of C.£2.2bn. 

‘a public/private hybrid, combining the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither’

This has put the PO is a somewhat unique position, benefiting from all the privileges of being a public body with none of the accountability. According to Lord Arbuthnot, who as an MP did much to champion the sub-postmasters cause: ‘The government is refusing to take the responsibilities that go with ownership … If you have an organisation that is as important to the community as the Post Office is, then the people have got to be able to have proper control over it.’ The attorney general has the power to regulate private prosecutions, and questions should be asked as to how a private entity was able to bring hundreds of private prosecutions without at least making an inquiry. 

What we have ended up with is a corrupt dishonest fool’s paradise. The government has been trying to show is that their stewardship of prized national assets was successful, while PO bosses have been striving for profitability. Nowhere within this was any concern for customers or employees.  

The whole Horizon scandal has its origins in the simple fact that the PO couldn’t admit that Horizon, its flagship IT project, didn’t work. As we heard last week, Ed Davey’s meeting with Alan Bates seems to have been treated as a PR exercise as he was advised to accept the meeting to avoid bad press (from a forthcoming Channel 4 documentary) but briefed to avoid committing to any real action. 

In addition to denial, the was a coordinated campaign, to shame, financially penalise, and prosecute people who were innocent. To an extent I can forgive a focus on profits, but what cannot be forgiven is this catalogue of deceit and lies that ruined so many people lives. 

‘what cannot be forgiven is this catalogue of deceit and lies that ruined so many people lives’

I suspect that when witnesses such as the former PO boss Paula Vennells, Davey, Vince Cable and other senior executives from Royal Mail and the PO, are questioned there will be significant discrepancies with the statements they initially made to the public, courts or parliament.  

There are, unfortunately other examples of this, Windrush being one. One that has come to fore in recent weeks is the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) bullying of carers. 

Last week it was reported that George Henderson, 64, said he made a gain of just 30p a week while claiming carer’s allowance for his son John, who has learning difficulties and is addicted to heroin. He now costs the Treasury £1,000 a month more in benefits, having become homeless and too unwell to work. 

George was ‘dragged through the courts’ and had to sell his home to pay back almost £20,000 in benefit overpayments is fighting to clear his name after he acknowledged he made an innocent mistake. Henderson said he was left suicidal after being prosecuted by the DWP, which accused him of fraudulently claiming the benefit for six years while he was caring for John. 

He wrongly ticked a box saying he was unemployed while filling in the ‘tricky‘ application form for carer’s allowance in 2010. ‘I thought they were asking about John,’ he told the Guardian. 

The DWP has records of him working as a taxi driver since 2002, earning about £7.50 an hour. Yet it took more than six years for anyone at the department to tell him he was claiming the benefit incorrectly. 

By that point he had claimed £19,506.20 – about £60 a week. The DWP not only wanted it all back but also prosecuted him for fraud. Investigators said he had lied about having a job and had ignored annual letters reminding him to report any changes in circumstances. 

He protested his innocence but was found guilty. In 2018, a judge at Preston crown court gave him a 32-week suspended sentence and ordered him to wear an electronic tag for 16 weeks. 

Afterwards, he received letters from the DWP every 3-weeks demanding he sell his two-bed former council house to pay the debt or face a seven-month jail term. Henderson eventually sold the property for £115,000, and after paying off his mortgage and the DWP he was left with just £6,000. ‘It breaks my heart, I’ve been back and looked at [the house] twice and I’ve actually broke down and cried.’ 

After his conviction in 2017, Henderson tried and failed to appeal. He was left homeless and had to be housed by the local council in sheltered accommodation, at a cost to the public purse. Too unwell to work, he now relies on universal credit, receiving £1,300 a month to cover his housing and living costs. 

Believe it or not, when I moved in I couldn’t get in and out of the bath because I’ve got two hip replacements and I’ve got a serious spinal condition. So it cost them £7,000 to put in a wet room. It’s costing them the universal credit. It’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s actually cost the taxpayer or the government money by doing this,’ he said. 

Henderson is one of a number of carers the Guardian has spoken to after exposing how people looking after disabled, frail or ill relatives are being forced to repay huge sums to the government and threatened with criminal prosecution after unwittingly breaching earnings rules by just a few pounds a week. 

‘people looking after disabled, frail or ill relatives are being forced to repay huge sums to the government and threatened with criminal prosecution’

The government is facing calls to overhaul the system after the Guardian revealed that tens of thousands of unpaid carers are facing severe fines, some over £20,000, for relatively modest and unintentional breaches of rules branded ‘cruel and nonsensical‘. 

Next we turn to the ongoing saga of people who caught HIV or Hepatitis C as the government infected NHS patient by using ‘lower-priced’ blood products. A public inquiry into the deaths of an estimated 2,900 people infected with conditions such as HIV and hepatitis will publish its final report in May, four decades after the NHS started prescribing blood and blood products – including from drug users, prisoners and sex workers – sourced from the US. 

For a long time, ministers peddled a version of the line uttered by the Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher in November 1989, that ‘all patients received the best treatment available in the light of the medical knowledge at the time‘. 

This goes as far back as November 1976, when Immuno AG, an Austrian company that was a major supplier to the Department of Health, was seeking a licence change to allow it to supply a blood product from those paid to donate in the US rather than donors without a financial incentive in Europe. 

According to the minutes of a meeting of medics in the company, it had been ‘proven’ that there was a ‘significantly higher hepatitis risk’ from a concentrate known as Kryobulin 2 made from US plasma compared with that from Austria and Germany. 

The company had concluded there was a ‘preference’ in the UK for the cheaper US option. The memo of the meeting said: ‘Kryobulin 2 will be significantly cheaper than Kryobulin 1 because the British market will accept a higher risk of hepatitis for a lower-priced product. In the long-term, Kryobulin 1 will disappear from the British market.’ 

General apologies for the scandal have been made by the government in recent years but Rishi Sunak has been accused of dragging his feet over compensation. About 4,500 interim compensation payments of £100,000 have been made to victims and bereaved partners but that leaves two-thirds of families without redress. 

‘Rishi Sunak has been accused of dragging his feet over compensation’

The PM defied calls from the inquiry chair, Sir Brian Langstaff, last year for a final compensation framework to be set up by the end of 2023 and for payments to be extended to the parents and children of those infected. 

Among the victims of the contaminated blood scandal were 1,250 haemophiliacs infected with HIV and a further 2,400 to 5,000 people with such bleeding disorders who were infected with hepatitis C. 

A total of 1,170 of those people have died as a result of their infections, including scores of children. They were infected through a blood product known as Factor VIII, of which Kryobulin was one of the brands. 

The public inquiry was ordered by Theresa May in 2017 shortly after a group litigation was launched in the high court by hundreds of victims of the scandal, but the legal action has been paused to allow the inquiry, led by Langstaff, to complete its work. 

In an interim report last April, Langstaff said it was clear that ‘wrongs were done at individual, collective and systemic levels’. 

He highlighted the testimony of the chancellor and former h health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who told the inquiry that the disaster was ‘a failure of the British state’. 

Evidence has been heard at the inquiry of government documents going missing. There was a policy in the 1970s and 80s of not informing the victims who had been infected. 

‘There was a policy in the 1970s and 80s of not informing the victims who had been infected’

In France, senior officials went to jail in the 1990s over a similar scandal, but there has never been a prosecution in the UK. 

The former health secretary Andy Burnham told the Commons in 2017 that he believed there had been a ‘criminal cover-up on an industrial scale‘. 

Des Collins, a lawyer representing 1,500 victims and their families, said: ‘My view is that the administration at the time in the 80s and early 90s realised what was happening in France and thought this isn’t going to happen in this country and pulled up the drawbridge to say ‘nothing to see here’. I think they were worried about criminal prosecutions. That led to 40 years of denial.’ 

‘the longer they procrastinate they less they have to pay as people, espeially with infected blood, die’

In line with the PO scandal there is a reticence to compensate people, even after enquiries have found it to be necessary. Sunak’s attitude does him no credit, it just sums up how the state and big business feel about us, little people. 

There are very series questions to be asked. Firstly, how these scandals are allowed to happen? Secondly, why, after numerous enquiries, reports, etc., does the government continues to drag its heels in paying compensation? The answer I suspect is the longer they procrastinate they less they have to pay as people, espeially with infected blood, die. 


‘Father, fatherWe don’t need to escalateYou see, war is not the answerFor only love can conquer hateYou know we’ve got to find a wayTo bring some lovin’ here today’


Pretty grim reading this week as the Post Office scandal grinds on, and brings to mind the shameful handling of the infected blood scandal:

The PO Horizon scandal just runs and runs. Whilst the enquiry is finally teasing out the truth, albeit painfully and slowly, what we learn is only confirmation of what we already knew.

There is a simple, but unpalatable truth. Firstly, the Fujitsu designed system wasn’t fit for purpose, despite their ongoing assurances that it was functioning well. In turn, the PO chose to believe Fujitsu rather than the sub-postmasters and engaged in a campaign of deceit and lies in order to orchestrate a cover-up. They used their draconian powers of prosecution to terrorise innocent people, a number of which went to prison, in many, if not all cases sub-postmasters were forced to repay monies that were never missing. Leading to another question, where did all this money go?

It took a TV drama to highlight this, even though it had been well known for at least 10-yrs.

In January a shocked and outraged PM promised all sorts of actions, and then promptly forgot them.

The scandal around infected blood is 30+ yrs old, we have had enquiries, reports, and ….nothing.

In neither instance does the government actually care. Yes, they make the right sounds, but when it comes to compensation they are nowhere to be seen.

This really is a very sad indictment of our country.

Lyrically we open with “Natural’s Not In It” by the Gang of Four, we close with Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Clearly, not very much. Enjoy!

Philip Gilbert 2Philip Gilbert is a city-based corporate financier, and former investment banker.

Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s

Click on the link to see all Brexit Bulletins:

brexit fc

Leave a Reply