Andy Burnham flew to Japan to sign Fujitsu contract for Manchester Investment zone

Burnham (pictured), described the partnership as a “massive boost” for the city
Burnham (pictured), described the partnership as a ‘massive boost’ for the city - Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham has signed a major new deal with Fujitsu despite publicly railing against the wrongful prosecution of sub-postmasters which the tech giant enabled.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester flew to Tokyo last month to sign an “exploratory agreement” with the firm for its assistance in the development of Manchester’s Investment Zone.

He described the partnership as a “massive boost” for the city, while a colleague said it would make Manchester “more efficient”.

Since the airing of the hugely successful ITV drama Mr Bates vs The Post Office, Mr Burnham has taken to the airwaves to denounce the treatment of sub-postmasters, hundreds of whom had their lives ruined after Fujitsu’s faulty Horizon software falsely indicated they had lost or stolen money.

Mr Burnham compared their treatment to that of victims of the Hillsborough disaster and the Grenfell Tower fire.

The Horizon System Helpdesk, which notoriously told desperate sub-postmasters they were the only ones reporting issues, had a call centre in Manchester.

‘Guilty of treating people appallingly’

Mr Burnham said Post Office bosses were “guilty of treating people appallingly for years” and called for the Government-owned company to be stripped of its powers to prosecute independently.

However, in respect of the scandal he appears to have made no mention of the Japanese multinational company, whose bosses have admitted to Sir Wyn Williams’s public inquiry that it knew of bugs in the Horizon software from as early as 1999.

Fujitsu is now under fierce scrutiny for its role, referred to by one High Court judge as the worst miscarriage of justice in British legal history, which included actively assisting the Post Office with its prosecutions, for which the company earned up to £20,000 per case.

The firm has now undertaken not to bid for any further government contracts until the public inquiry is complete.

MPs on the Treasury Committee have also written to 21 public sector organisations demanding to know what deals have been struck with Fujitsu since 2019.

Prosecutions wrongly brought based on Horizon system

That is the year when in a landmark case the High Court ruled that prosecutions were wrongly brought based on the faulty Horizon system.

Any such concerns about the company did not prevent Mr Burnham attending a formal signing ceremony at Fujitsu’s Shiodome City global headquarters in December, alongside the firm’s chief technology officer Vivek Mahajan and a fellow Labour politician, Manchester City Council leader Bev Craig.

He also posed for photographs next to the bullet train and later lauded on Twitter, Greater Manchester’s “most successful trade mission yet”.

The trip, which included visits to other Japanese firms, was supported by the former Tory cabinet minister Greg Clark in his role as the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Japan.

Fujitsu has longstanding ties with Greater Manchester.

The company has a three-building campus opposite the Greater Manchester Police headquarters.

It was also the first tenant of the Central Park enterprise hub, which opened in 2005.

The firm installed the smart Manchester Airport’s passport control, and it has strong links with the University of Manchester, with collaborations stretching back 75 years in the early days of computing.

Although details of the “exploratory partnership” are opaque, including the value of the contract, the deal will see Fujitsu support Greater Manchester in the development of its investment zone, a huge project the authority hopes will create thousands of jobs and bring in billions of  pounds over the next decade.

‘Extremely concerned’

James Daly, the MP for Bury North, said: “I’m extremely concerned that Mr Burnham has apparently entered into a deal with Fujitsu, bearing in mind that he has known, as everyone has, for many years the role that Fujitsu played in the terrible prosecution of sub-postmasters.

“He needs to be upfront with the people of Greater Manchester about why he has signed this deal and how much it will cost them.”

Greater Manchester Combined Authority said no public funds had yet been spent or earmarked on the project.

Mr Burnham said on Sunday: “Fujitsu is a large, long-standing employer in Greater Manchester, and it is right that we work closely with them.

“Of course, the public inquiry is bringing new information into the public domain all the time and we will wait for its conclusions before taking any decisions.”

Fujitsu has been approached for comment.

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