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    Politics

    The civil servant denies that he asked the former chairman of the post office to suspend compensation payments

    Henry Staunton claims that Sarah Munby, then permanent secretary at the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, told him that politicians &# 39 ;I don’t like to face reality' Photo: Supplied

    The senior civil servant at the center of the Post Office scandal denies she asked the organization's former chairman to delay her compensation payment after she was first named.

    Henry Staunton, the former chairman of the Post Office, accused Sarah Munby of telling him “now is not the time to deal with long-term problems”, which he took as an instruction to put payments on the back burner.

    On Wednesday afternoon ​​she hit back, saying: “It is not true that I gave any instructions… to delay compensation payments.”

    In an extraordinary step, she released a four-page memo dedicated to her memories of meeting with Mr. Staunton when she was Permanent Secretary in the Business Department.

    “I can give you the strongest assurance… that I did not in any way suggest to Mr. Staunton or suggest to him in any way that there should be a delay in postmaster compensation payments,” she wrote.

    “I did not believe that they [compensation payments] should be delayed, and no minister has ever asked me to seek a delay.”

    She also said that Mr. Staunton had proposed closing several post offices to save money and that he was in favor of raising salaries for top managers.

    Sources close to Mr Staunton still say he understood from the conversation that “long-term issues” included paying compensation to victims of the Horizon scandal.

    However, they admit that his notes were not verbatim.

    A source said: “This was a note that Mr Staunton sent to himself after the conversation. It was never intended to be verbatim.”

    They added: “Two important levers for the board to improve the Post Office's financial position were the horizon replacement system and junior postmaster remuneration.”

    “This was the context in which the conversation took place. took place and cannot be understood otherwise.”

    On Monday Kemi Badenoch, the business minister, told MPs there was “no evidence” to support Mr Staunton's claim and accused him of spreading “fictitious stories” jokes.”

    But in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak refused to repeat her accusations that Mr Staunton was lying.

    Meetings 'not about compensation'

    In a note setting out her position, Ms Munby said: now permanent secretary at the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology, said: “It is not true that I gave any instructions, directly or indirectly, to Mr Staunton to delay compensation payments in any way. I didn't do it.

    “Neither Mr. Staunton's note nor the contemporaneous note issued by my office suggests otherwise. In fact, none of the notes mentioned a deferral of compensation…

    “Mr Staunton initially said there was an express instruction. Since he found a note on the file, this seemed to lead to the assumption of some kind of implied instruction. Such a statement is also not confirmed in any way by the notes and did not take place.”

    Ms Munby said the meetings discussed operational funding for the post office rather than compensatory funding. She said the two areas of spending were isolated from each other and it would be factually incorrect to suggest that cutting compensation would improve the Post Office's financial position.

    She said Mr Staunton had never communicated with her or anyone else. any of these statements at any time during the past year, up until his interview with the Sunday Times.

    Additional notes posted Wednesday evening, undated but believed to have been written immediately after the meeting, read: “Henry noted that he had never seen The corporation has been challenged on so many fronts (eg network, parcel business, etc.), but I don't have the luxury of prioritizing since every problem is a big one!

    “The CM (Sarah Munby) agreed that the challenge is significant and that the politics around POL [Post Office Limited] make the issue even more difficult to resolve, the timing of agreeing a long-term solution in this way is also very difficult.”

    In the memo it also said that Munby “noted” that the relationship with the Treasury was “complicated” and that “their [Treasury's] view will always lean towards a 'begging bowl' type scenario, the dynamics of which deteriorate due to the horizon/costs of the investigation.” “

    'Subpostmasters deserve the truth'

    The Liberal Democrats have called for a cabinet investigation into whether Ms Badenoch breached the Ministerial Code, telling Parliament on Monday that Mr Staunton's comments were “totally false”.< /p>

    According to the note written by Mr. by Mr Staunton following a meeting in January 2023 and reported to The Times, Mr Staunton claims Ms Munby told him she understood the “huge commercial challenge” of the financial situation facing the Post Office.

    Ms Munby warned him that “politicians don't necessarily like to confront reality”, he said.

    His note recorded Ms Munby saying the Post Office needed to know this ahead of the election there was no desire to “rip off the Band-Aid [as a band-aid is called in the United States].”

    “Now is not the time to solve long-term problems,” the note said, adding that the Post Office needed a plan to “hobble” to elections.

    On Monday Ms Badenoch denied he had been ordered to stop payments, saying there was “no evidence” to support the claim and accused him of spreading “fictitious anecdotes”.

    She insisted the government did it. “everything possible” to speed up payments to those wrongfully prosecuted.

    Daisy Cooper, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said the Business Secretary could potentially have breached Article 1.3c of the Ministerial Code, which sets out We state that “ministers who deliberately mislead Parliament will be required to resign by the Prime Minister.”

    “Time and time again, Conservative ministers have undermined the integrity of our policies,” Ms Cooper said. “Now this Kemi Badenoch scandal raises a whole new set of questions to which we urgently need answers.

    “If Badenoch misled Parliament, then she has clearly breached the Ministerial Code.

    ” The deputy postmasters at the center of this scandal deserve justice, financial compensation and the truth.”

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