Last month, Andy Burnham signed a landmark deal with Fujitsu. Then the Post Office scandal erupted
The Japanese company has a major presence and a long history in Manchester. But should the brand new partnership now be cancelled?
Dear Millers — today’s edition of The Mill examines the links between Greater Manchester and Fujitsu, a Japanese technology company that most of us were probably only dimly aware of until recently. Then along came ITV’s hit drama about the Post Office scandal over the Christmas break, which has elevated Fujitsu to nationwide notoriety as the company that allowed its software bugs to destroy the lives and reputations of hundreds of innocent subpostmasters, law-abiding men and women who were suddenly accused of stealing vast sums.
The drama has inspired a torrent of anger and condemnation, including from Andy Burnham, who told LBC last week that the Post Office’s bosses were "guilty of treating people appallingly". "There is a serious injustice which we’ve all seen on our TV screens over the break,” the mayor said, making a link between the mass miscarriage of justice in this case and the treatment of victims after Hillsborough and Grenfell. He repeated his argument for a new law that would impose a "duty of candour not just of police but of all public servants, to tell the truth at the first time of asking."
What Burnham didn’t focus on was the other major party "guilty of treating people appallingly": Fujitsu. That might have had something to do with a trip the mayor made to Japan last month, one that he described as “our most successful trade mission yet”. The central achievement of the trip was secured at the global headquarters of Fujitsu in Tokyo, where a landmark deal was signed, a partnership that Burnham described as a “massive boost” for Greater Manchester.
That’s the subject of today’s story. To read it, you will need to be a paying member of The Mill, and if you’re not one of those already, this would be a great day to jump on board. Not only can you read Jack’s story about Fujitsu but you will also get lots of exclusive members-only stories from us, a VIP invite to our very popular comments sections and access to all of our members-only events in 2024. We’ve added 61 new members this month, so we’re on track to hit our target of 100 newbies. If you’re not a member yet, help us out using the button below.
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👨🍳 Simon Martin, the star chef behind Manchester’s only Michelin-star restaurant, appeared at Manchester Magistrates Court on Tuesday (you might remember him from our long read Simon Martin is Manchester’s best chef. Is he its worst boss?). We can reveal that he was called as a witness in the case against a group of animal rights demonstrators who occupied his restaurant Mana and have been charged with aggravated trespass. Animal Rebellion took up seats at the restaurant just as it opened for a Saturday night service in December 2022. Martin said the restaurant lost about three hours of service before the activists were removed by police. The demonstrators said they targeted Mana because of its meat-heavy menu and refusal to cater to vegans and lactose-intolerant people. Martin told the court this was down to logistics rather than not wanting to serve vegans, claiming that delivering a vegan menu to Mana’s standards would be “a logistical pain in the arse”. The judge made him apologise for that remark, which displeased Martin almost as much as spotting our reporter in the press gallery.
🏘 The Mill understands Manchester City Council have had to resort to housing former asylum seekers in a disused educational facility in the south of the city. Some 40 people, evicted from their Home Office accommodation as the government pushes to clear the asylum seeker backlog, are staying in the facility, which we are choosing not to name to protect its inhabitants from anti-immigration activists. It’s a trend we are seeing across the city region as asylum seekers are processed and evicted from their accommodation at a rate local authorities can’t handle. Former asylum seekers were also recently reported to be sleeping on sun loungers in a repurposed school in Salford. Go deeper: and read our reporting on the lives of asylum seekers in Greater Manchester, from being targeted by far-right groups to suffering poor conditions in Serco-managed hotels.
🌹Sir Tony Lloyd, the veteran Labour MP for Rochdale, who was foreign minister between 1997 and 1999 and a significant political figure in Greater Manchester, died peacefully at home surrounded by his family on Wednesday. The news comes one week after he revealed he had untreatable leukaemia and would be stepping back from his duties. Lloyd was born in Stretford and served as the Interim Mayor of Greater Manchester from May 2015, before missing out to Andy Burnham for the selection as Labour’s mayoral candidate. In a statement, Burnham said Lloyd’s “record of service to Greater Manchester is unparalleled” and added: “We will forever be grateful to him for establishing the foundations upon which our city region is now being built.”
🚆 An excellent investigation by our friends at Novara Media into a failing train company bragging about making money at the taxpayer’s expense. On 12 January, a senior operator at Avanti West Coast, whose services are notorious for delays, disruption, cancellations and overcrowding, delivered a presentation to an executive team entitled “Roll up, roll up, get your free money here”. Leaked slides describe how the train company is offered performance-related bonuses from the Treasury, even if it doesn’t score ten out of ten for compliance. “Sounds too good to be true?!” the presentation reads. “Well on this occasion — it isn’t — it’s the absolute truth!” Andy Burnham said: “It beggars belief that a company responsible for vital national infrastructure would show such contempt for taxpayers.”
🗞️ It was lovely to be mentioned in the Guardian yesterday in an otherwise depressing piece about local news. Writing about the MEN’s London-based owner Reach Plc, Jane Martinson says: “Increasingly, a rebrand of the many historic titles owned by Reach — with a ‘Live’ website for places as diverse as Edinburgh, Belfast, Teesside, Devon and Leicestershire, as well as Birmingham — allows for universal celebrity content that can be produced anywhere.” She adds near the end: “Signs of hope are provided by brilliant local news ventures including the Mill in Manchester…”
⚽️ We hear that Sir Jim Ratcliffe, the petrochemical magnate who recently bought a 25% stake in Manchester United, met with Andy Burnham at the GMCA offices on Monday. He was joined by Sir Dave Brailsford, the sporting director at Ratcliffe’s company INEOS. “It seems like they were doing a bit of a fact-finding mission, probably just trying to build a relationship,” says one insider. “It’s not something the Glazers would have done.”
📜 Greater Manchester’s oldest living archive collection, which contains details of life in Middleton in the medieval and early modern period, has been saved for posterity by Manchester City Council thanks to National Lottery money. It will have a permanent home in the Greater Manchester County Record Office and Manchester Central Library.
💬 And finally, Councillor Pat Karney called it “excellent” and another reader wrote: “A lovely piece of writing you could only find in The Mill.” Our members-only read about Boggart Hole Clough was an instant hit when it came out on Tuesday. If you missed it, join up now.
Awkward timing: Why did Greater Manchester embrace Fujitsu?
By Jack Dulhanty
On Tuesday, Fujitsu’s European director admitted that the company knew about the bugs in its Horizon system, which led to the false prosecution of hundreds of subpostmasters and the biggest miscarriage of justice in British history. “We were involved from the very start,” Paul Patterson told a committee of MPs. “We did have bugs and errors from the start and we did help the Post Office with prosecutions of subpostmasters.”
By the time Patterson spoke, the public knew all about Fujitsu’s failings. ITV’s Mr Bates vs The Post Office, which aired at the start of this month and has dominated the news ever since, depicted the company’s disturbing behaviour in relation to subpostmasters who were struggling with the bug-ridden computer system Horizon, which was built and operated by Fujitsu. The drama shows Fujitsu customer support staff telling subpostmasters that no one else was experiencing the faults, which was plainly not true. And it tells the story of Michael Rudkin, a Leicestershire Post Office employee who visited the headquarters of Fujitsu and saw a worker there remotely access the Horizon system. That was a critical claim because it contradicted the Post Office’s central assertion that only the subpostmasters had access, and it would have collapsed the many prosecutions if it had been widely known at the time.
Rudkins’s wife Susan was subsequently convicted of stealing Post Office money, and there is a suggestion in the programme that this might have been linked to his discovery at the Fujitsu office. As Lord Arbuthnot, who championed the subpostmasters’ cause as an MP, put it on Times Radio: “The day after he [Rudkin] goes to Fujitsu and discovers all of these shocking things, he is then raided and removed from his post as subpostmaster. If that was an act of revenge or silencing, it's very difficult to see that this was not a mafia hit.”
But last month, before Mr Bates vs The Post Office created a massive public outcry, Andy Burnham and Manchester City Council leader Bev Craig were on a bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, on their way to pay Fujitsu a visit. They arrived at the Shiodome City Centre, the 43-storey glass tower where Fujitsu has its head office, and sat down with its chief technology officer Vivek Mahajan to make a deal.
With the benefit of hindsight, the quotes sent to the press a few days later make your shoulders jump. “Partnering with Fujitsu,” Burnham said, “is a massive boost for Greater Manchester’s Investment Zone.” Craig went further, heralding the brilliant relationship between her city and the Japanese firm. “We’re proud that Fujitsu’s Manchester office is a major hub for its UK business,” she said, adding: “Fujitsu’s technologies can help Greater Manchester manufacturers become more efficient, sustainable and profitable.”