Post Office a ‘dead duck’ and should be sold to Amazon for £1, Alan Bates tells MPs – UK politics live

Post Office is ‘dead duck’ and ‘money pit’ for taxpayers which should be sold off to Amazon for £1, Bates tells MPs

The former post office operators giving evidence to the business committee said there was a problem with the whole culture at the Post Office.

Bates said the Post Office was a “dead duck” and had been for years. He said:

I think over the years I’ve been dealing with Post Office, the culture has always been Post Office.

It hasn’t changed, it’s been the same for donkey’s years – it will not change and you cannot change it.

My personal view about Post Office is it’s a dead duck and it has been for years, and it’s going to be a money pit for the taxpayer in the years to come.

You should sell it to someone like Amazon for £1, get really good contracts for all the serving sub-postmasters and within a few years you’ll have one of the best networks around Britain.


Updated at 

Key events

Liam Byrne, the committee chair, ended the session with Read by asking why the committee should have confidence in him given that only 20% of the money set aside for compensation has been paid out, there are complaints the system is too slow, and the culture has not been changed.

Read replied saying he was “delivering great things for the Post Office”. He said trading was excellent, and trust was improving.

Read says mass exoneration bill for victims of Post Office Horizon scandal ‘least worst option’

Charlotte Nichols (Lab) is asking the questions now.

She asks Read to confirm that he supports the government’s plan for a bill exonerating post office operators convicted on Horizon evidence. (His earlier answer was somewhat ambiguous – see 1.24pm.)

Read replies:

We support anything that is going to accelerate justice for wronged postmasters.

Q: Do you think some post office operators are guilty as charged, as Nick Vamos said. Why is there opposition from you to the plan?

Read says he is not opposed to the plan.

Q: Do you think some of them are guilty?

Read says:

There may well be people [who are guilty included in the exoneration scheme], but it is the least worst option.

He suggests there might be “one or two” people in this category.

Jonathan Gullis asks Read if he has training to prepare for today’s select committee hearing.

Read says of course he has prepared for this. It is an important hearing.

Gullis asks about a Telegraph story saying the Post Office is spending £15,000 a month on a City PR firm, TB Cardew. He suggests they coached Read for today’s hearing, and he says this implies the Post Office is paying to spin its way out of a crisis.

Read does not accept that. He says they are a big organisation and they use a PR organisation to promote themselves properly.

Back at the business committee, asked if he is happy with pay rates for post office operators, Nick Read, the chief executive, says he is not.

Q: Can you commit to ensuring all post office operators get X% of the minimum wage?

Read says the Post Office has hardship funds. It wants to ensure the proportion of revenue going to post office operators increases year on year.

Pause in Gaza fighting leading to sustainable ceasefire ‘in reach right now’, Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell tells MPs

Turning away from the business committee, Andrew Mitchell, the development minister and de facto deputy foreign secretary, has told MPs that a pause in the conflict in Gaza which could pave the way for a sustained ceasefire is “in reach right now”,

In a statement to MPs, he said:

The most effective way to end the fighting in Gaza, the absolute focus of our diplomatic efforts right now, is to agree an immediate humanitarian pause.

This would allow for the safe release of hostages and a significant increase in the aid going to Gaza.

Crucially, it would also provide a vital opportunity to establish the conditions for a genuinely long-term and sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life.

That is the position shared by our close partners. It is an outcome that we believe is in reach right now and we urge all sides to seize it.

Henry Staunton’s conduct ‘somewhat erratic’ in weeks before he was sacked as Post Office chair, MPs told

Asked about allegations that one of the problems with Henry Staunton was that he was not “alert” during meetings, Tidswell says that is not a concern he raised. But he says he was the person who had to tell Staunton that there had been a complaint about him and that after that his conduct changed. “His behaviour changed in a way that was somewhat erratic,” Tidswell says. He says this happened from November. But Staunton was not falling asleep in meetings, he says.

Andy McDonald (Ind) takes Nick Read back to the Vamos letter. (See 1.24pm.)

Read says he did not tell the Post Office board about the need to send that letter to the Ministry of Justice. He says he did not feel the need to do that.


Updated at 

Ben Tidswell, chair of the Post Office’s remediation committee, told the business committee that Carl Creswell, an official from the Department for Business and Trade, was right when he told the committee earlier that Tidswell had told him that some board members might resign if Henry Staunton were not sacked. (See 11.14am.)

Asked about the allegations against Staunton, Tidswell said:

There were a number of concerns, the most significant of which were that Mr Staunton was obstructing investigations and particularly the investigation into him, the whistleblowing investigation into him. And he had taken steps to circumvent the shareholder’s position in relation to the appointment of my replacement.

Read rejects claim that letter to justice department showed Post Office wanted to block mass exoneration law

Gullis asked about the letter sent by the Post Office to the justice department last month saying it would oppose attempts to overturn 369 of the cases that have been identify as Horizon miscarriage of justice cases.

Here is the Read letter, and here is the legal note it referred to, an opinion from Nick Vamos, head of business crime at Peters & Peters, the solicitors advising the Post Office.

Read said he did not solicit the note from Vamos. But, having received it, he felt obliged to pass it on to the justice department, he said

Gullis put it to him that this showed the Post Office wanted to stop the government from legislating to exonerate former post office operators.

Read did not accept that. He said he was just making sure that the government had all the available information before it legislated. He said if mass exoneration was the right way forward, it was important to do it properly.

Jonathan Gullis (Con) is asking the questions now. He puts it to Nick Read that people like Alan Bates are saying the culture of the Post Office has not changed. (See 11.46am.)

Read insists it is changing. He says:

I think we’ve made a lot of progress in, certainly since 2019.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a scandal. It’s gone on for 25 years … It won’t be changed overnight. But we’ve made progress.

Simon Recaldin, the Post Office’s remediation matters director, tells the Commons business committee that post officer operators can claim for legal advice to help them fill in the claim form.

He says that the amount they could get for legal advice used to be capped at £1,200. But now there is no cap, he says. The Post Office will pay whatever sum is reasonable, he claims.

Asked what the upper limit is, he says it is whatever is reasonable.

Liam Byrne, the committee chair, says former post office operators who have spoken to the committee did not seem to be aware that the cap had been lifted. They felt £1,200 was not enough to fund the legal advice they needed, he suggests.

Q: Have you ever been asked to limit compensation payments?

No, says Recaldin.

Read accepts he has not got written evidence to show government told him to speed up compensation payments

Byrne put it to him that in all the documentation submitted to the committee from the Post Office there was no written evidence showing that it has been told by the government to speed up compensation payments.

Read accepted that, but said that this was an issue discussed with the government regularly.

He said that he has not had a conversation with Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, about accelerating the compensation scheme. But he has discussed this with Kevin Hollinrake, the post services minister, he said.