The contract for Croydon Council’s latest innovation, the My Croydon smart phone app, was never put out to competitive tender.
Instead, the deal – estimated to be worth a low five-figure sum – was awarded to a company which did not even exist until November 8 last year. My Croydon was launched by the council to a waiting world on November 30.
Local tech sector start-up companies have told Inside Croydon of their surprise and disappointment at being frozen out of this potentially important opportunity by their own borough.
The company which was given the work is called Sensemble, and it is unusual for a tech sector firm since it does not appear to have an operating website (its site is expected to go live at the end of this week).
Sensemble is run by Harwinder, or Harry, Singh, who is also a director of another firm, Crm Consult Ltd, which operates from a flat in Battersea. He also has an office in Covent Garden.
My Croydon is an application which can be downloaded on to people’s smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices and allows them to report a range of problems and incidents to the council, such as abandoned cars, blocked drains and fly tipping.
But after little more than a month of operation, a range of snagging details are beginning to emerge with the app. The My Croydon app is, in any case, hardly original programming. As Jonny Rose suggested when he reviewed it last month, it appears to be a re-skinning of other existing apps.
But local tech companies are understandably upset to have been denied the opportunity to demonstrate their commercial programming capabilities for such a high-profile piece of work.
“A programming project like that might be worth as much as £15,000, even £20,000, plus any on-going maintenance work,” one tech company insider said.
“But it is not just about a single contract. For a small tech start-up, getting a contract with Croydon for a project like this could be hugely important – there are another 31 boroughs across London, after all, and if we proved ourselves here, they might be interested in our work on other, similar projects.”
The manner in which the work was awarded also raises some serious questions about the way in which Croydon Council does commercial transactions with public money.
Croydon Council refused to provide any details about how the work for My Croydon was awarded, how Singh and Sensemble came to “win” the contract, nor the amount of public money being spent on the deal, beyond saying, “The work was not put out to tender because if the very low value of the work. The app was developed with existing project resource.”
This decision is understood to have been the responsibility of a council department run by Graham Cadle, the director of customer and communications services. The cabinet member to whom Cadle reports is Sara Bashford, the Tory councillor who seriously suggested that it would be cheaper to give all the borough’s residents book tokens rather than keep our public libraries open. Bashford’s day job is as a constituency assistant to Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central.
“After hearing that Croydon Council has released a new mobile app for its residents, I was pleased to know they are moving with the times and new technology,” Croydon resident Anthony Odogwu, the founder of Future Space Technologies, told Inside Croydon.
FST, which operates from a base on the Greenwich peninsular and which does have a fully functioning website, has an established track record in the sector, specialising in programming bespoke apps and custom software solutions for all mobile phones and other handheld devices.
“I was disappointed and surprised, though, that they did not advertise the contract for tender. It would have been a fantastic opportunity for us pitch for the work, and grow our portfolio as a tech start-up,” Odogwu said.
Jonny Rose, the co-founder of Croydon Tech City, shared the disappointment. “Although it’s encouraging to see Croydon Council catching up to the demands and expectations of the 21st century, it’s a shame that they have not sought to avail themselves of the homegrown tech talent on their doorstep.
“While the tech start-ups within Croydon Tech City shouldn’t expect council contracts to be handed to them on a plate by virtue of proximity, it’s not unreasonable that they at least be alerted and considered from the outset.”
Coming to Croydon
- Mark Steel at Ashcroft Theatre, Feb 12
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 13
- Croydon Arts Network meeting, Feb 15
- Chinese New Year children’s event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 18
- This War! St Gertrude’s Theatre group, Feb 19-22
- Welsh myths children’s event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Mr Pooter comes to Croydon, Feb 20-22
- Warm and Well event, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 22
- Stop the Incinerator fund-raiser, Feb 24
- Fairtrade Film night, Antenna Cafe, Haynes Lane, Feb 27
- Fairtrade event, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 1
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Mar 3
- Patchwork and quilting workshop, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 3
- Fairtrade stall at Food Market, Haynes Lane, Mar 8
- Upper Norwood Library Book Club, Mar 15
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
- Croydon Half-marathon, Mar 30
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