UK education department awards contract uplift to Horizon scandal-plagued Fujitsu

The UK's Department for Education has awarded Japanese IT services supplier Fujitsu a £4.75 million ($6 million) contract, despite its promise not to bid for government work before the Post Office Horizon Inquiry concludes.

Fujitsu provided the controversial Horizon IT system to the UK Post Office network, a project which led to branch managers being wrongfully accused of fraud and one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in UK history.

The EPOS and backend finance system was first implemented by ICL, a UK technology company bought by Fujitsu in 1990. From 1999 until 2015, 736 local branch managers were wrongfully convicted of fraud when errors in the system were to blame.

In a procurement notice issued late last month, the Department for Education said it was modifying an existing £9.5 million ($12 million) contract to increase the total value to £14.25 million ($18.4 million).

The contract is designed to "deliver Agile Core Services" for the department's apprenticeship service portfolio including 11 underpinning services.

The contract began in October 2022 and is set to end in April next year. The procurement notice said the modification is for "a value uplift" but said the scope of the work remained unchanged.

It said it was not the best path to go to market again for the additional work.

"Agile Delivery for Apprenticeship Service is high-priority for DfE and its end users. Interchangeability and interoperability would incur significant costs and time delays ... Changing supplier(s) and procurement activity would incur significant costs and delays to critical services and would carry additional risk to current service delivery timescales," the procurement notice said.

The Register has contacted The Department for Education and Fujitsu for comment.

The Horizon scandal destroyed the lives of the many involved, leaving some bankrupt and others feeling suicidal, with several tragically taking their own lives. Tens of individuals died before seeing any form of justice.

In January, Fujitsu wrote to the UK government to confirm it would no longer tender for business in the public sector amid the ongoing inquiry into the Post Office scandal.

The decision came weeks after it was awarded a contract worth £485 million ($617 million) following a competition in which no other suppliers submitted final bids for the work. In a notice published on December 22, the province's Education Authority awarded the Japanese services and technology company the deal to provide services including a school management system for nursery, primary, secondary, and other education settings.

In March, a UK government-endorsed ID card scheme was due to appoint Fujitsu as a business outsourcing supplier. The government is set to extend the PASS scheme to phone-based digital ID cards. Although the physical cards, which employ holograms, can come from a number of companies, a single company is expected to build the software to verify users through a smartphone app or barcode scanner. The contract was expected to be worth around £1 million ($1.27 million).

Other public sector work has trickled Fujitsu's way after a TV drama brought wider public and political attention to the Post Office scandal.

The National Nuclear Laboratory awarded a £155,000 ($197,200) contract for software support to Fujitsu until 2025. According to media reports, former Labour leader Ed Miliband said, "We've got an inquiry going on and the government needs to be very cautious about handing out these kind of contracts." ®

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