Fancy building a replacement for Post Office's disastrous Horizon system?

£75 million in the offing in government tender

The Post Office, the UK government-owned retail organization for post and banking, has kicked off procurement to help build the system replacing Horizon, the disastrous EPOS and back office system at the heart of one of the country's greatest miscarriages of justice.

The Horizon system, introduced in 1999, was built by ICL before the company was acquired by Japan's Fujitsu. Errors in the system were blamed on sub-postmasters, who were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015. A statutory inquiry into the injustice is ongoing.

In a tender notice this week, the Post Office said vendors interested in working on a replacement system should sign a non-disclosure agreement. "Post Office is in the process of replacing its existing EPOS system, known as Horizon," the notice said, putting the contract price at around £75 million ($94 million).

The document explained the Post Office is building the new system – called New Branch IT, or NBIT – in-house as part of its Strategic Platform Modernisation Programme (SPMP).

"Whilst Post Office is responsible for overall programme management, strategy and architecture it has a requirement to engage with third parties to help create the necessary solution," the notice said.

"This procurement therefore is designed to identify and appoint suitable partners to a small panel of providers of such services. Work will be let via mini-competitions within the panels on either a [time and materials] or fixed price dependent on the nature of the work packages."

... the government were pumping huge amounts of money into the Post Office, year after year. They need to be held responsible for it, they need to be addressed, the way that they've been going on

Errors in the Horizon system, which NBIT is set to replace, led to the wrongful convictions of 736 local branch managers. The public inquiry into the scandal centers on the deployment of Fujitsu's bug-ridden Horizon accounting system, which made mistakes in calculating the finances of local Post Office branches. The errors and the erroneous prosecutions left some bankrupt and others feeling suicidal, with several succeeding in ending their lives. Sixty people died before just seeing any sort of justice served.

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However, in April last year, the Post Office awarded a £16.5 million ($20.69 million) contract to Fujitsu to extend its support for on-prem Horizon systems as its transition to the cloud was delayed.

"The program to transfer the services to a new cloud provider created fundamental technical challenges that [the Post Office] could not economically and technically overcome, and the business has taken the decision to pivot back to the Fujitsu provided Horizon Data Centres until the successful transfer of services out of Horizon and into its replacement New Branch IT," a tender document said.

Since the Horizon scandal came to the attentions of the wider public through a television dramatization, Fujitsu has agreed not to tender for UK public sector work until the end of the inquiry, while the government has promised to accelerate compensation.

Alan Bates, the former sub-postmaster who helped lead the campaign for justice, told the inquiry yesterday that the government should have taken control of the Horizon scandal sooner than it did instead of deferring to the Post Office. "In fact, the government were pumping huge amounts of money into the Post Office, year after year. They need to be held responsible for it, they need to be addressed, the way that they've been going on, and it's very hard to engage [with the government]." ®

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