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Government considered removing Paula Vennells in 2014 over ‘lack of knowledge’

The government considered removing Paula Vennells from her position as chief executive in 2014 (Jonathan Brady/PA)
The government considered removing Paula Vennells from her position as chief executive in 2014 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

The Government considered removing Paula Vennells from her position as Post Office chief executive over concerns about her people management and a “lack of knowledge”, the Horizon IT Inquiry has heard.

Considerations for dismissing Ms Vennells were discussed in a paper drawn up in February 2014 for a committee within the Department for Business and the shareholder executive of the Post Office Ltd (POL), of which the Government was sole shareholder.

She kept her position as chief executive until 2019 and was made a CBE in December 2018 for her “dedication in putting the customer first”.

The document, marked Post Office Ltd Senior Management Risk and Assurance Committee and “restricted”, said: “Advice from the recent Annual Review suggested that the POL (Post Office Ltd) team give careful consideration to the continued suitability of Paula Vennells as CEO.

“There is a general consensus that Paula is no longer the right person to lead POL but justification is anecdotal.”

The document, shown to the inquiry, went on to say she had “not been able to establish good working relationships with Jo Swinson” – the former parliamentary under-secretary for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

It also said: “Paula’s people management has caused concern as she appears unable to work with personalities and approaches that differ from hers, and has failed to build relationships with key directors.”

The option of retaining and reviewing Ms Vennells’ position was also considered problematic because “ministers would be conscious of the political implications”.

The paper said: “Paula has failed to perform on a number of key areas.

“But removal without a clear process in place for appointing a replacement creates greater risks, not least in finding a suitable candidate quickly.”

Alice Perkins, who was chairwoman of the board of The Post Office Ltd between September 2011 and July 2015, was shown the documents at the inquiry on Thursday.

When she was asked by the counsel to the inquiry, Jason Beer KC, whether she had been aware of the review, she replied: “I don’t think so.”

Asked whether she had seen the document, which described Ms Vennells as being “unable to work with personalities that provide robust challenge to her”, Ms Perkins said: “These papers, when I saw them, were complete news to me.”

Ms Vennells, an ordained priest, was questioned by inquiry counsel last month during a tense three-day evidence session in which she broke down several times.

She was booed by subpostmasters after she was seen describing a Horizon victim as someone who “lacked passion”.

The former chief executive told the inquiry she had “no-one to blame” but herself for what happened during the scandal.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted by the Post Office and handed criminal convictions between 1999 and 2015 as Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon IT system made it appear as though money was missing at their branches.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the Government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.