Advanced Manufacturing and Services
Department for Business, Energy &
1 Victoria Street
Ms Eleanor Shaikh
T +44 (0)20 7215 5000 - Public enquiries
+44 (0)20 7215 6740 - Textphone (for
those with hearing impairment)
04 September 2020
Dear Ms Shaikh,
Thank you for contacting the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
regarding Post Office Limited (POL), governance arrangements between BEIS, UKGI and POL
and the Horizon litigation. We have dealt with your 20 requests under the Freedom of
Information Act 2000 (the Act). These are detailed in the Annex to this letter.
Unfortunately, the Department is unable to comply with your requests.
Under the Act you have the right to see recorded information
held by public authorities – that is
information recorded in any form e.g. documents. It does not cover the creation of new
information or enquiries such as "please explain your policy on x" or "please explain your
decision to do y". A number of your requests are not requesting recorded information. For
further guidance please see - https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-freedom-of-
In addition, Section 12 of the Act relieves public authorities of the duty to comply with a request
for information if the cost of dealing with it would exceed the appropriate limit.
Section 12(1) of the Act provides that “Section 1(1) [general right of access to information held
by public authorities] does not oblige a public authority to comply with a request for information
if the authority estimates that the cost of complying with the request would exceed the
The appropriate limit for central Government is set at £600. This represents
the estimated cost of one person spending 3.5 working days in determining whether the
Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting it.
The Regulations provide that the costs of answering more than one request can be added
together or aggregated for the purposes of estimating whether the appropriate limit would be
exceeded in relation to any one of those requests in the following circumstances:
• two or more requests for information must have been made to the same public authority;
• they must be either from the same person, or from 'different persons who appear to the
public authority to be acting in concert or in pursuance of a campaign';
• the requests must relate to the same or similar information;
• they must have been received by the public authority within a space of 60 consecutive
We consider that your requests fall within these circumstances, and therefore they can be
aggregated. In particular, we consider that your requests relate to the same or similar
information; that is information relating to POL, the Horizon court case and communication
about the court case between Government Departments.
We are satisfied that the estimated costs of complying with your requests would exceed the
applicable limit of £600. In considering what the estimated costs would be we have, for
example, noted that some of your requests would require us to search through significant
amounts of information to establish whether or not the specific information you have requested
is included in the information we hold. In these circumstances we are not prepared to comply
with your requests.
Under Section 16 of the Act, BEIS is obliged to provide advice and assistance to prevent your
request from exceeding the cost limit noted above. Where you have requested recorded
information, a number of these requests cover a number of years and request multiple
documents from different sources. We advise that you prioritise the top one or two requests,
along with narrowing down the time period in question and requesting specific documents. It is
also worth noting that, multiple requests within a single item of correspondence are separate
requests for the purpose of section 12 of the Act. You should therefore only make one or two
requests per correspondence, consider prioritising the top one or two requests and narrowing
down the time period in question. Finally, we should also advise that a refined request may
continue to engage the cost limit under the Act, because there is no central repository housing
all potential information held by BEIS relevant to your requests. Appeals procedure
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal
review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of
the response to your original request and should be addressed to the Information Rights &
Records Unit. It would be helpful if you can tell us why you are dissatisfied with the response to
your request so we may address this during the internal review.
Information Rights & Records Unit
Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
151 Buckingham Palace Road
London SW1W 9SZ
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly
to the Information Commissioner for a decision. Complaints can be made to the Information
Commissioner via their website at https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/official-information-
Advanced Manufacturing and Services
Page 2 of 8
BEIS Ref. No.
10/08/2020 As part of its inquiry into the Post Office and Horizon, the Chair of the BEIS Select
Committee asked its former CEO, Paula Vennells, for information concerning the
involvement of UKGI officials in discussions about Horizon at Board level. In her
letter of response (24th June 2020) Ms Vennells, stated:
‘The UKGI directors were fully engaged in the discussions...The present UKGI
incumbent director...was fully engaged on the Board, sub- committee and with
ministers and lawyers at BEIS’ (p17, para 60 in response to Question 16).
i) Please can you confirm the identity of the law firm who were involved on behalf
of BEIS with which the UKGI POL representative was ‘ful y engaged’.
ii) Please can you confirm if a representative from this law firm gave advice or was
involved in discussions which led to POL’s application to recuse Mr Justice Fraser
on 21st March 2019?
iii) Please can you confirm if a representative from this law firm gave advice or
was involved in discussions which led to POL’s appeal against the Judge’s refusal
to recuse himself delivered by POL on 9th April 2019.
iv) Did any lawyer representing the Department for BEIS attend any meetings of
the POL GLO sub-Committee from the time of its inauguration in March 2018 until
the conclusion of the litigation in December 2019?”
10/08/2020 i) Please can you disclose the total legal costs to the Department for BEIS which
were incurred during, and as a result of, POL’s Horizon Litigation? Please can you
also breakdown into expenditure per tax year?
i ) Please differentiate between costs incurred by BEIS’s legal department and
those incurred as a result of engaging external specialist legal advice.”
17/08/2020 In a written response to Lord Arbuthnot on 6th July 2020 , B
Under-Secretary, Lord Callanan made the following comment:
‘Following the Common Issues Judgment in March 2019, POL advised Ministers
that it intended to change its approach to the litigation. This included changes to
the POL legal team and strategy...’
i) Please can you release correspondence and/or minutes of meetings in which
POL advised the Department for BEIS and/or its UKGI representatives of the
aforesaid change in legal strategy after the Common Issues Judgement of March
ii) Please can you release correspondence and/or minutes of meetings in which
the Department for BEIS and/or its UKGI representative responded to POL’s
information regarding the change in its legal team and strategy as a result of the
Common Issues Judgement?
17/08/2020 i) Was a Ministerial Direction ever sought by the BEIS’s Accounting Officer
regarding regularity, propriety, value for money or feasibility in respect of spending
incurred by Post Office during its High Court Horizon Litigation?
ii) Please can you disclose whether in response a Ministerial Direction was issued
by the Department for BEIS or by the Cabinet Office in relation to spending
incurred by Post Office Limited during its High Court Horizon Litigation?
iii) If so, please can you disclose correspondence detailing the grounds on which
the request was made and reasons for whether or not it was granted.
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17/08/2020 With regard to POL’s Horizon controversy, it has been reported that the
Department for BEIS’s decision to conduct a review (as opposed to a judicial
inquiry), and the terms of that review, were agreed after communications between
the Department and No 10. (See link below).
Please can you release correspondence between the Department for BEIS and
No 10 in which this decision was considered and agreed?
17/08/2020 According to BEIS’s 2016-17 Annual Report:
‘The Department’s senior management and governance structures have an up-to-
date view on POs’ [Partner Organisations’] risks and performance through close
working between the Portfolio Office and the Partnerships Team. All POs provide
regular assurance assessments that are reviewed internally, with relevant issues
escalated through the Performance and Risk Challenge Panel, the Performance,
Finance and Risk Committee and the Audit and Risk Assurance Committee’ ( BEIS Annual Report 2916-17, p68)
i) Please can you confirm if and when the financial/reputational/strategic risks
posed by Post Office’s Group Litigation were escalated to BEIS’s Performance
and Risk Chal enge Panel?
i ) Please can you confirm if/when the financial/reputational/ strategic risks posed
by Post Office’s Group Litigation were escalated to BEIS’s Finance and Risk
i i) Please can you confirm if/when the financial/reputational/ strategic risks posed
by Post Office’s Group Litigation were escalated to BEIS’s Audit and Risk
17/08/2020 i) Please can you confirm if/when the financial/reputational/ strategic risks posed
by POL’s Horizon High Court Litigation were escalated to the Executive
Committee chaired by the BEIS Accounting Officer, Alex Chisholm?
i ) Please can you confirm if/when the risk of Post Office’s Horizon High Court
Litigation were escalated to the BEIS Board? Is the current status of Post Office
Limited currently regarded as High Risk by the BEIS Board with regard to its
Historical Shortfall Scheme, investigations into over 900 previous prosecutions
related to potentially flawed Horizon evidence and active litigation at the Appeals
i i) When was the BEIS Advisory Legal Team (or Government Legal Department
when the BEIS Advisory Legal Team was transferred) first consulted with regard
to the POL Horizon High Court Litigation? Does the Government Legal
Department currently have active involvement in Post Office’s activities regarding
the Horizon Litigation?
17/08/2020 In its 2017-18 Annual Report, BEIS acknowledges the ‘Limited’ GIAA rating it
received the previous year with regard to its framework of governance, risk
management and control.
[A ‘Limited’ assurance rating is defined as having ‘significant weaknesses in the
framework of governance, risk management and control such that it could be or
could become inadequate and ineffective’. See here,
p66, para 9 and ref 17 at
bottom of page)].
In the 2017-18 Annual Report BEIS goes on to identify remedial action for
improvements include a focus on increasing consistency of risk management and
on partner organisation relations. These include the introduction of systems to
‘improve the line of sight into partner organisations’ and a ‘new methodology to
engage and work with partner organisations’ (As above, p72, para 2 & 8).
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i) Please can you release information which indicates whether BEIS’s relationship
with Post Office Limited or UKGI was identified in the 2016-17, or subsequent,
GIAA audits as needing improvement?
ii) Please can you release documentation which details systems which were
implemented to improve the ‘line of sight’ into Post Office Limited or UKGI in
response to GIAA recommendations?
17/08/2020 The 2016-17 BEIS Annual Report cites an internal audit recommendation that
improvements would be gained from ‘developing the relationship model to
reinforce the lines of accountability so that there is clear authority to take action
when required; and ensuring framework documents, memoranda of
understanding and similar documents are up-to-date, accurate and reviewed
regularly’ (see pg 67, para 5).
i) Please can you confirm whether any internal audit, GIAA or otherwise, identified
Post Office Limited or UKGI as entities which lacked a Framework
Document/Memorandum of Understanding with BEIS?
i ) What actions were suggested as a result and when were they implemented?
17/08/2020 According to the Department for BEIS’s Audit & Risk Assurance Committee Terms
of Reference (p3)
‘The Committee wil , in consultation with the Department's Accounting Officer and
the Directors of Finance and Commercial, establish appropriate arrangements to
identify the Arm's Length Bodies and Partner Organisations with the greatest
potential to impact the Department's objectives and its consolidated financial
i) When and how regularly did BEIS’s Audit & Risk Assurance Committee engage
directly with POL or with UKGI to assess the control environments, risk
management framework and escalation practices at POL with regard to its
ii) Was a higher level of scrutiny exercised by this Committee, in consultation with
the Department’s Accounting Officer, in response to the publication of a report by
Forensic Investigators Second Sight in April 2015 or by the announcement of the
Group Litigation Order v POL in March 2017?
i i) How regularly were reports from POL’s Group Litigation Subcommittee
delivered directly, or via UKGI, to BEIS’s Audit & Risk Assurance Committee?
18/08/2020 During its High Court Horizon Litigation, Judge Fraser originally asked POL to
report its legal costs to the Court at £250k intervals, but POL costs rose so rapidly
he had to adjust the reporting interval to £500k:
At what intervals was it decided that POL would report its legal costs to
BEIS/UKGI and was this reporting interval ever adjusted to accommodate the high
rate of expenditure?
19/08/2020 Subsequent to its oral evidence session of 3rd February 2015 regarding the Post
Office Mediation Scheme and Horizon IT system, the BIS Committee Chair wrote
to the department’s Secretary of State. Recommendations of the Committee
‘We believe that your Department should have a copy of Second Sight’s final
thematic report on the operation of the Horizon system...It is my understanding
that, now their investigations have concluded, Second Sight are expected to
destroy the documents they hold following their investigations. In PMQs on 11th
March, the Prime Minister recognised that this was a potentially serious issue. IN
ORDER TO ENSURE AN EFFECTIVE AUDIT TRAIL IS MAINTAINED, COPIES
OF THESE DOCUMENTS SHOULD BE LODGED WITH BIS IN CASE THEY
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ARE NEEDED IN FUTURE’ (Emphasis in original letter of 17th March 2015, p2)
i) Please can you reveal if a copy of Second Sight’s final report was retained by
i ) Does the department still hold the report and if not, when was it destroyed?
19/08/2020 The Justice For Sub postmasters Alliance is to present a case to the
Parliamentary Ombudsman requesting his/her investigation into the oversight of
the Department for BEIS of the Post Office during its Horizon controversy.
i) Please can you release the Retention Schedule of the Department for BEIS with
regard to the retention period of information and documentation which may be
pertinent to this investigation including: internal and external audit reports with
supporting documents and data; risk assurance documentation, investigations
and findings of irregularity; correspondence with Post Office Limited, UKGI, the
Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and the Comptroller and Auditor General?
ii) Please can you identify if this schedule covers data previously owned by the
Department for BIS?
iii) Has the Permanent Secretary of BEIS suspended the usual process of
archiving and destruction of such material and if not, when will such a suspension
be implemented so that any relevant evidence will not be destroyed?
21/08/2020 In its 2012-13 Annual Report the Department for BIS announced its programme of
Triennial Reviews in response to the Public Bodies Reforms designed in 2011 for
a ‘fit for purpose Partner Organisation landscape’. BIS Annual Report 2012-13, p47
i) How many Triennial Reviews has Post Office Limited been subject to, when
were they carried out?
ii) Please can you publish their findings, in particular recommendations regarding
the shareholder relationship, internal and external audit, risk management, board
effectiveness, information management, risks of IT obsolescence, or Horizon
iii) What actions were implemented by the department and POL as a result of
areas for improvement identified in the Triennial Reviews?
iv) Please can you publish the Partner Organisation Assessment made by BIS of
Royal Mail Holdings and/or the Post Office in 2011?
(Annex C of the above report classifies Royal Mail Holdings, Post Office’s parent
company as a Partner Organisation, p277) (The 2012-13 Guide
to BIS published by the department categorises both POL
and Royal Mail as Partner Organisations, p68)
21/08/2020 i) Please can you reveal costs to the department for the services of UKGI with
respect to its shareholder management of Post Office Limited on behalf of BEIS
(per financial year since its inception in 2016)?
ii) To what VFM assessment is UKGI subject with regard to the services it
provides to the department, who conducts this assessment and how regularly?
26/08/2020 Replying to Lord Arbuthnot during a 11th June 2020 Lords debate,
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Lord Callanan revealed the Government
Page 6 of 8
had been aware of, and had taken information from, forensic accountants Second
Sight’s investigations into Horizon:
i) Please can you release communications, if any, between the department’s
Accounting Officer and POL/ShEx/UKGI in which assurance was sought as to the
regularity and propriety of Post Office’s General Suspense Account and multiple
individual suspense accounts which were highlighted as matters of concern by
Second Sight in 2015 and estimated to be in excess of £150m? (Second Sight Briefing Report Part Two,
April 2015, p5-6, point 2.18-2.19)
27/08/2020 i) Please can you confirm how many personnel currently make up the Post Office
Policy team within BEIS?
According to BEIS’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Callanan,
speaking in a Lords Debate
of 25th February 2020, the government has
strengthened its mechanisms of oversight over POL ‘including expanding the
BEIS Post Office policy team that works closely with UKGI in holding the Post
Office to account at an official level’.
ii) Please can you identify when this expansion was effected?
iii) Please can you release figures to indicate how many people made up this
team in the years since it was created?
iv) Is this the only BEIS team with responsibility for oversight of POL?
27/08/2020 According to the BEIS Audit and Risk Committee Terms of Reference:
‘The Committee shall engage with the chairs of the corresponding committees of
those high-impact organisations with a view to forming an opinion as to whether
their control environments, risk management frameworks and escalation practices
provide the Department with the requisite line of sight into their activities’ (see
Terms of Reference below, p3, ‘Arm’s Length Bodies/Partner Organisations’).
i) Did BEIS’s Audit and Risk Committee engage with the chair of POL’s Audit,
Risk and Compliance Committee or with POL’s Risk and Compliance Committee
after the Department received the report of 2015 Second Sight which raised
serious concerns over POL’s Horizon IT system?
i ) Has BEIS’s Audit and Risk Committee engaged at any time with the chair of
POL’s ARC or RCC with regard to POL’s control environment, risk management
or escalation practices? If so, when?
iii) Please can you release minutes and a list of attendees of BEIS’s Audit and
Risk Committee meetings in which risks pertaining to POL’s Horizon issues and/or
POL’s Group Litigation were discussed since 2012?
iv) Please can you confirm that reports from the above meetings were circulated
to the Accounting Officer and Board of BEIS as per the Audit and Risk Committee
Terms of Ref
( p1, ‘Reporting’)?
02/09/2020 Please can you supply the working protocol documents which existed between
UKGI and the department relating to Post Office Limited and Postal Services
Holding Company from 1st April 2016 up to the present day in all updated
04/09/2020 According to BEIS’s monthly all-spending data
(see below, transactions 280549-
285874) a total of 17 payments were made to the Government Legal Department
between 6th-29th March 2019 for services described as ‘Litigation and
Government Legal Department-Legal Services and Advice Agency’. These total
£106,806 and include single payments of £34,975 and £28,587. The payments
coincide with the period of the handing down of the Common Issues Judgement
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during Post Office Limited’s High Court Litigation and its subsequent application to
recuse the presiding High Court judge.
i) Please can you release documentation to confirm whether all or some of these
payments relate to the High Court Litigation in which BEIS’s Partner Organisation
Post Office Limited was engaged at the time?
A later entry in BEIS’s al -spending data
indicates a further single payment of
£20,585 to the Government Legal Department on 6th December 2019. This is
also described as ‘Litigation and Government Legal Department-Legal Services
and Advice Agency (See below, transaction 323595) and it corresponds with the
timing of the mediation and out-of-court settlement in which Post Office Limited
was engaged prior to the release of the Horizon Issues Judgement in December
ii) Please can you provide documentation to confirm whether this payment relates
to BEIS’s activities surrounding Post Office Limited’s mediation, settlement and
High Court litigation?
iii) Please can you identify the supplier of Litigation and Government Legal
Department Services and Advice whose name and whole postcode is withheld in
the all-spend documents (transaction 286979, £5,456 of 4th April 2019:
transaction 287008, £946 of 4th April 2019 and transaction 326372, £1,035 of
18th December 2019)?
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