Council scoops yet more prizes from its own suppliers

Just when Nathan Elvery thought it was safe to put on his black tie and book his cab (on council expenses, natch) for the next back-slapping local authority awards ceremony, so more revelations of close commercial connections between his department and sponsors of awards have filtered through to Inside Croydon. One recent award won by Croydon was even sponsored by a company figuring prominently in the controversial procurement of the library service.

Award "winner": Croydon's deputy CEO Nathan Elvery

Elvery’s department has a very good track record of winning awards, despite its annual struggle to meet its budget without a face-saving injection of cash. This sorry state of Elvery’s little empire is in part due to its woeful record on collecting Council Tax.

Yet despite its multi-million pound record of uncollected Council Tax, only last year, Croydon’s collection service actually won an IRRV bronze award – that is the Institute of Revenues, Rating and Valuation, the professional body for this part of council function.

Croydon was named as third-placers in the IRRV awards’ Benefits Team of the Year category. Croydon also won gold in Excellence in Education, Training and Development at the same awards function, staged in Telford last September. You can watch a video of Croydon’s  delegation collecting that award by clicking here (was a Bruce Springsteen classic ever so ill-used?).

The overall sponsor for the IRRV awards was Gandlake, an IT services supplier that specialises in working with the public sector.

That’ll be the same Gandlake that features in Croydon’s invoices in August for £3,000-worth of services carried out earlier in 2011. That’ll be the same Gandlake that on its own website cites Croydon Council by name as one of its most important local authority clients.

It is a warm and profitable on-going relationship which dates back at least as far as 2008, as Gandlake’s website demonstrates.

And apparently without any sense of irony (or shame), Gandlake even boasts of how well its own clients, including Croydon, all managed to do at the awards which it sponsors. They state, proudly: “All five of Gandlake’s customers that were shortlisted at the prestigious IRRV Annual Performance Awards this year picked up accolades.” Quelle surprise!

Croydon’s “multiple award-winning” Income, Exchequer and Benefits team is part of the recently renamed Customer Services and Communications division whose rising “star” is the trained psychologist Hayley Lewis. The director of that division is Graham Cadle, who is also responsible for the wider customer services projects including its transformation of customer access and buying in IT from companies including… Gandlake.

Given that Croydon is such a big council, there is always scope for buying a new bit of kit – even if it doesn’t work (for instance, see page 23 of this recent council report, for £200,000-worth of “Contact Centre – Voice Recognition Savings undelivered” by the same Customer Services and Communications division where, presumably, as Elvery infamously claimed, “efficiency is in our DNA”).

The IRRV awards website carries a description of Croydon’s bronze winners which appears as if drafted by someone at the council: “The Benefits team has this year delivered innovative ways of working which have benefited both our customers and provided greater value for money. Despite a growing caseload we have improved customer satisfaction by 20% and improved the processing time of a new claim by 10% compared to 2008…”

Is “innovation” just another way of saying the council has not hit its targets for collection of Council Tax and failing to make large inroads into that debt mountain?

And of course, as if it needed stating, the improvements are down to better use of IT, some of which may have been provided by suppliers such as … Gandlake: “We have used new technology in order to provide better services for our customers as well as delivering efficiency’s including increasing the take up of our online form and customer accounts and deploying automation of our new claims,” Croydon’s award-winning testimonial states, complete with the apparently obligatory grocers’ apostrophe. #thatissocroydon

The award category in which they took the bronze also had sponsorship from another IT services supplier, Civica – which coincidently is one of the eight bodies identified in the “market testing” exercise carried out by Croydon and Wandsworth on the future of their library services.

That report on libraries privatisation went to Croydon’s Cabinet on September 19 – just two days before the IRRV awards ceremony was staged in Telford and where coincidentally Civica gave Croydon Council a gong.

As they would say in Private Eye: Trebles all round!

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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