Hello PPMA members and friends

The plight of postmasters and the huge miscarriage of justice against them perpetrated by corporate management of the Post Office has come to the fore again in recent days, thanks to the drama of their story shown last week on ITV1 over 4 nights. Anyone, who has not seen it or read about the sub-postmasters situation over many years now, should watch this limited series on ITVX.

This is a tale of appalling management and HR leadership in perpetuating and leading this corporate witch hunt of its own staff. Sub-postmasters were being blamed for unexplained financial losses, which they claimed were caused by errors made by the Horizon IT accounting system. The Post Office denied this, and many sub-postmasters were subsequently prosecuted for theft and false accounting, with prison sentences, community service, criminal records and heavy fines among the injustices they suffered as a result.

Quite rightly, pressure is now being applied for Paula Vennells, Managing director and then CEO of the Post Office for much of the period of the Horizon IT scandal, to have her CBE award rescinded. How this minister of the church, she was ordained as a priest in 2006, can live with her failure to uphold the values of human decency, forgiveness and support that her doctrine must demand beggars belief.

But almost as bad, was , who was portrayed in the ITV drama as people services manager and who helped to mastermind the hounding, dismissal and prosecution of the postmasters that numbered in their thousands over many years. During a 2019 High Court trial where sub-postmasters were suing the Post Office, High Court judge Peter Fraser criticised Van der Bogerd’s evidence for the Post Office’s defence, saying she sought to mislead him. Van den Bogerd left the Post Office in 2020 and was appointed Head of People at the Welsh Football Association, but following mounting pressure over her involvement in the Post Office Horizon scandal she was forced out of the role shortly after joining.

The Post Office scandal makes my blood boil and I have followed it for many years. If I had been the HR lead in the organisation I would have been asking questions about why so many previously solid, good and honest workers had been suddenly perpetrating fraudulent accounting practices. Surely, with so many cases and little evidence of criminal benefits or where the missing money actually was any investigator or senior HR person worth their salt should have been probing the cases more. The sub-postmasters were dismissed with seemingly no right of appeal and many were prosecuted in the courts. The only plausible explanation for Van den Bogerd’s failure to question the numbers of workers and what was going on, was that she knew there was a failing of the systems/ processes and that she was part of the corporate machine willing to try and protect the name and brand of the Post Office at any cost, sometimes human life.

Unfortunately, HR is often portrayed in TV drama’s as poor, uncaring or incompetent. In the Post Office Postmasters case this is justified.

However, I fully believe that the vast majority of HR/OD practitioners in our organisations want to do the best for our staff and uphold the CIPD values and ethics of our profession, to have a positive and active impact on working lives, and foster fair, consistent and equitable treatment and not act in a way which might discredit the profession.

Fortunately, these values and ethics are demonstrated hugely in the submissions for the PPMA Excellence in People Management Awards, which are currently open for entries and which close at the end of January – see link to the PPMA website – PPMA-awards-2024 . The awards are our annual opportunity to celebrate and share the fantastic work going on every day in our organisations.

Steve Davies is PPMA past president and current PPMA Treasurer and Secretary