The Post Office says it is delighted to announce that its Group Chief Executive, Paula Vennells, has been awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list.
The citation accompanying her honour recognises her work for the Post Office and away from it. She is an ordained minister in three local communities, a trustee of the Hymns Ancient and Modern charity, which supports hundreds of smaller charities, and she is committed to a number of other voluntary causes.
Post Office chairman Tim Parker said: “This is well deserved recognition for Paula, who has led the turnaround of Post Office Ltd with great skill, passion and determination.
“She cares deeply about the business, its people and its customers, and it is wonderful to see her commitment and success marked in this way. On behalf of everyone at Post Office I send her my warmest congratulations.”
Paula Vennells said: “I am delighted to be receiving this honour. It is a privilege to lead a business that matters to people as much as the Post Office does; in truth, this honour is recognition of the hard work and commitment of so many colleagues across the organisation.”
Paula Vennells has worked for Post Office Limited since 2007 in a number of senior roles, including managing director, becoming chief executive in 2012. She is a non-executive director of Morrisons.
A contrasting New Year’s story – “I am broken”
Another New Year’s story is about Wendy Martin, who ran the Crichton Lane Post Office in York until December 2017.
She is more than £30,000 in debt, suffers anxiety attacks and has been diagnosed with depression. For this, she blames her ordeal while running the local Post Office.
Her tells her story on a blog run by campaigning journalist Nick Wallis who, with crowdfunding, is covering a High Court case in which hundreds of former sub-postmasters are seeking compensation and damages from the Post Office.
Wendy Martin says she is an “empty shell” – not the same person she was four years ago.
“I am on a waiting list for post-traumatic stress counselling. Even saying that doesn’t sound right. I am not a soldier. I should not need counselling. I was a postmistress working in a post office. I am destroyed both inside and out.
“I started out my career working in an accountants and became a credit controller, but I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life until I found a job in my local post office in February 1999.” She worked at various post offices until she ran one in York.
For a refurbishment of the branch, she borrowed from her family and £22,000 from the bank. She also ploughed her life savings into the branch. “I was stupid. I thought I was securing my future.”
After the refurbishment, which included changes to the communication lines, problems with the Horizon branch accounting computer system began. Horizon is run centrally by Fujitsu under contracts with the Post Office.
“Each day when I checked my cash I had massive discrepancies, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of pounds.
“You could input the same figures and the discrepancy would alter each time. We were experienced staff and each one of us could not balance our tills. We kept getting told Horizon was not causing our problems…
“I knew Horizon was the problem. I could not believe what they were telling me. To make matters worse they kept closing my case and refusing to send anybody…
“The worry and stress was killing us and we were getting no help from the Post Office …
“I could not even go to the doctors as I spent each day fighting at work and each night phoning and sending emails trying to rectify my problems.”
She closed the local post office in December 2016. “I could no longer deal with the stress. The Post Office responded by keeping my last three months remuneration which amounted to nearly £7,000. They still say I owe them more than £8,000. I am broken. My credit is ruined as I owe more than £30,000 which I cannot repay as I have no income.”
Her health has suffered, her relationship with her partner has broken down, she is awaiting counselling, is in debt and is struggling to find work.
“It has been just over a year since I closed and I still feel exhausted. I am out of fight. I am still shocked by lack of press coverage and lack of concern by the government who own this institution.
“I am still hopeful this will change. I am not alone. Hundreds of postmasters are like me. I hope the Post Office will be brought to account soon.”
The Post Office told Nick Wallis it does not comment on individual cases but its legal position, as explained in court during the recent “common issues” trial, is that what happens in a branch is the postmaster’s responsibility.
Problems with Horizon have to be proved by individual sub-postmasters. The Post Office says that Horizon’s general reliability means that the Post Office can safely assume it is reliable unless a subpostmaster proves otherwise. It has no contractual obligation to investigate its own computer system.
Paula Vennells is not responsible for the problems suffered by individual former sub postmasters but as the successful Post Office CEO, whose work is recognised in the New Years Honours List, she may have the ability to influence the Post Office’s decision on whether to settle a High Court case that involves hundreds of former sub- postmasters and sub-mistresses whose lives have been ruined.
Some MPs regard the injustices suffered by the sub-postmasters as a national scandal. Paula Vennells has more influence than most within the Post Office. She could try and persuade her board and the Post Office’s lawyers to settle.
A settlement would not end the misery for sub-postmasters whose health has been affected and whose relationships have broken down.
But it would be the right thing to do.