Mayor has to apologise as Crapita draws a blank for public

Drawing a blank: what nearly two dozen members of the public had to endure when they attended Croydon Town Hall last night

Drawing a blank: what nearly two dozen members of the public had to endure when they attended Croydon Town Hall last night

Virtually the first thing which Croydon’s new mayor, Councillor Manju Shahul-Hameed, was forced to do on taking office last night was to apologise to around two dozen members of the public because of the latest embarrassing council technology short-coming caused in the handover to IT outsourcing “experts” Crapita.

The members of the public had turned up at the Town Hall to witness the annual ceremonial “Mayor Making”, but instead were forced to sit in an ante room and watch a television screen which failed to carry any of the promised pictures from the council chamber.

The webcasting failure is linked to the chaotic handover of Croydon Council’s website and IT services to Capita, in what is supposed to be a £73.5 million, eight-year “mega-deal” that was agreed by the previous, Conservative-run council and the “interim” council chief executive Nathan Elvery.

Even this morning, more than a week after the “smooth handover” of service suppliers was supposed to have been completed, Croydon Council’s website was carrying a message to announce that its My Account function – which is used by a range of local businesses, council tenants and other residents – was not available.

How the council website appeared this morning. "We expect it to be up and running within the next few days" it said, above a notice encouraging residents to "Do It Online"

How the council website appeared this morning. “We expect it to be up and running within the next few days” it said, above a notice encouraging residents to “Do It Online”

And most of the keen new councillors attending last night’s ceremonial are as yet without their official, council-issue laptops and are also unable to access the council’s email system, all due to the problems with the Crapita handover. The local elections were staged as long ago as May 22…

The Tories who had run the council for the previous eight years seemed reluctant to handover the reins, as the pompous ceremonials were delayed in suitably shambolic fashion, adding to the stress of the council “Mace Bearer”, Peter Townsend, who is supposed to ensure the smooth management of such events.

First, the out-going leader of the council, Conservative councillor Mike Fisher, appeared to be late for the 6.30pm start, making him more florid-faced than usual. Disorganised or deliberately disrespectful?

Then the self-regarding Mace Bearer and the retiring mayor, Yvette Hopley (she of the dazzling array of frocks exhibited weekly on the Mayor of Croydon’s official Faustbook page), had to turn tail and return to the Mayor’s Parlour when the chamber’s projection screen descended to block the view of the PR flacks and wannabe hacks who had somehow persuaded someone to allow them into the press gallery. Or maybe it was deliberate, to screen the public from the grinning mugs.

Demand for places in the public gallery from friends and families was so high that Townsend had had to deploy the use of the overflow ante room. But the Council Tax-payers sent there and the council officials organising it were badly let down – yet again – by Crapita’s latest technology failure. Those in the ante room were forced to stare at a blank TV screen, or try to follow events via Twatter, or to play Sodutoo.  

“Various futile attempts were made to get it working, resulting in nothing but people either getting very annoyed and leaving or others finding it all rather amusing,” according to one of Croydon’s residents who found they had wasted their time.

“Various people out of their depth made excuses and fiddled with plugs. There was one very apologetic and embarrassed bloke in a suit who told us ‘there was an intractable software problem’.

“I asked him if he was from Capita. ‘No, I’m from Interserve, in charge of the catering,’ he said. The nice man from Interserve later successfully served me with a glass of wine at the reception,” Inside Croydon’s loyal reader said.

Another who endured the blank screen said, “Given the problems they’ve had in the past, you’d think that they will have made sure the links were working before 6.25pm on the night.”

From this morning, Tony Newman, the new council leader, will be able to ask the council’s employees whether they will show him the secret papers denied to Labour councillors for more than five years while in opposition. Newman will be keen to see the contracts for the controversial CCURV council joint venture with John Laing in property speculation, as well as the financial penalties due to be paid to operators Viridor if the council opts to withdraw from the Beddington Lane waste incinerator deal.

Senior council officials, many of whom have spent the last eight years working very closely with Fisher and his Tory team on their multi-million-pound secret deals, have already made it clear that papers will only be released to councillors if they can show that there is a “need to know”. Someone in Nathan Elvery’s office in Croydon’s £140 million new HQ has been reading too many Len Deighton books: their time might be better spent reading the council’s code of conduct, the terms of their employment contracts, or even glance at the election results to discover who is supposed to be running Croydon Council now.

The South London Waste Partnership, the grouping of four councils which signed the £1billion, 25-year deal for the incinerator with Viridor, is due to meet next Tuesday with new representatives from Croydon’s newly elected Labour administration and now-Tory Kingston. It will be interesting to hear what Croydon Labour’s “Green and Clean” cabinet member, Stuart Collins, will have to say.

Croydon's new mayor, Manjo. Among her first tasks was to apologise for the shambolic running of the ceremony

Croydon’s new mayor, Manju Shahul-Hameed. Among her first tasks was to apologise for the shambolic running of the ceremony

In his out-going speech, Fisher wished his successor well “in challenging times”, but added later “not too well”. In another inept political move, Fisher’s defeated Tories are now claiming, post-election, that Labour will fail because of a £100 million “time bomb” of further cuts to services. Funny how Fisher and his mates forgot to mention that before election day.

As well as struggling to handle the borough’s finances – having built up £1 billion-worth of debt in the last eight years – last night Fisher, Hopley and council officials inexplicably, disrespectfully, struggled throughout the evening to pronounce correctly the name of the new mayor.

Mayor Shahul-Hameed announced that her deputy would be Addiscombe councillor Patricia Hay-Justice. As a slight nod to the fact that we inhabit the 21st century, neither of Croydon’s new leading citizens wore the ludicrously Trumptonesque tricorn hats so beloved of recent Tory mayors, and neither Elvery nor the Borough Solicitor, Julie Belvir, bothered too long with wearing the wigs that make them look like extras from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical.

The two opposing political parties’ “new” front bench teams were announced. The information had been denied to councillors and to the public ahead of the meeting – again because of issues linked to the council’s technology systems.

The announcement by the Conservative group showed that the Terry and June of Croydon politics – Dudley and Margaret Mead – will continue their leading roles after all, and not as we had reported previously. Instead of Margaret Mead taking overdue retirement from the front bench, Fisher has dropped from his team Sara “Book Token” Bashford.

One-tenth of the 2014 crop of Conservative Croydon councillors also happen to be paid employees of Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation. Yet with Bashford’s demotion, none of them will be in Fisher’s shadow cabinet.

Sacked: Tory councillor Sara Bashford

Sacked: Tory councillor Sara Bashford

Bashford’s judgement as a cabinet member had often been called into question, and it saw her sacked from having responsibility for the borough’s public libraries after the shambles of the privatisation consultation.

Bashford had also tried to justify the sale of key parts of the Riesco Collection because she felt that Croydon’s school children could not tell the difference between kitchen crockery and the fine China. And it was Bashford’s “bright idea” to offer residents book tokens instead of libraries.

Bashford’s sacking will at least allow her to spend more time beavering away in Barwell’s office to try to ensure his re-election as MP next year.

Mayor Shahul-Hameed has chosen Age UK and MacMillan Cancer as her Mayoral charities for the coming year. The Mayor said that she intends to see her Mayoralty raise the profile of West Croydon in her ward of Broad Green, which is still to receive the long-promised post-riot compensation and funding. She will run her own website, hopefully free from the intervention of the Mayor’s Office which has a very old-fashioned conservative approach now rather charmingly disconnected from modern-day Croydon.

The Mayor also said that she intends to improve upon the appalling behaviour of councillors in the chamber, as she seeks “a different type of politics”. She also wants to open up the 1896 Katharine Street building as “the People’s Town Hall”.

Striking her gavel to show how she would try to assert herself upon the 70-strong council chamber, the Mayor said that she sought a “more open and transparent debate” held “in an appropriate manner” and “without heckling”.

She pleaded with councillors to act with consideration as to “how their conduct would be seen by residents”. She asked that councillors “refrain from personal remarks and keep to the issues, not personalities”.

We’ll see how long that lasts.

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This entry was posted in 2014 council elections, Addiscombe West, Bernard Weatherill House, Broad Green, Capita, Charity, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Gavin Barwell, Libraries, Manju Shahul Hameed, Margaret Mead, Mike Fisher, Nathan Elvery, Patricia Hay-Justice, Sara Bashford, Stuart Collins, Tony Newman, URV, Waste incinerator, Yvette Hopley and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Mayor has to apologise as Crapita draws a blank for public

  1. sed30 says:

    Reblogged this on sed30's Blog and commented:
    Well what a to do!

  2. Nick Davies says:

    Instead of watching a black screen everyone could have been watching Complainers on Channel 4 last night – in which Croydon Council features heavily, though not always in an altogether bad way. It should be said that it must have been filmed before the Crapita takeover, or C4 would have had even more fun than they obviously had.

  3. Croydon Labour Party will need all the help it can muster in the years ahead.

  4. davidcallam says:

    The IT debacle is, I suspect, symptomatic of the horrors the new Labour council will find as it takes the reigns. Outsourcing is fine, providing the necessary checks and balances are included.
    This website mess and other foul-ups suggest one of two scenarios:
    there are people negotiating for the council who are far beyond their level of competence and need to be relieved as a matter of urgency; or
    officers were instructed to obtain the cheapest possible contract regardless of operational consequences; in which case the previous administration should be publicly upbraded.
    Croydon is a major London borough not Trumpton; and its actions should reflect that simple fact.

  5. I was in the overflow room last night, where I waited in vain for 40 minutes as a couple of gormless young chaps tried to fiddle with the screen. They openly admitted that they had been asked to deal with it at the last minute, and they were from a different department anyway. They arrived at about 6:32pm, instead of having someone there at 6:15 to make sure the screen was ready in advance.

    It was the first time in more than a decade that I have not been able to watch the Mayor-Making meeting; not just because of the technology failure but also because there were fewer than usual spaces available in the public gallery (where I have always managed to find a place in previous years).

    I hope that in future all council meetings will be recorded, videoed, and/or podcasted, so that more people can get to see them.

  6. east1956 says:

    Ahh… well a bloke I met in the pub told me that someone he knew personally had categorically stated that,
    “If Jon Rouse hadn’t laid off the team that successfully rolled out the CapGemini IT refresh 10 years ago, then some of the lessons of that might have been used with this one and errors avoided. But out with the bath water went the baby, and now someone’s crying over spilt milk. Your round I think………….”
    While you can’t believe anything you hear and only 1% of what you see, I did wonder if a little bit of it might be true. Could the council’s senior management have laid off a bunch of key people without at least applying a modicum of knowledge management? In Croydon? Never!

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  8. mraemiller says:

    “Senior council officials, many of whom have spent the last eight years working very closely with Fisher and his Tory team on their multi-million-pound secret deals, have already made it clear that papers will only be released to councillors if they can show that there is a “need to know”. ”

    Doesn’t exactly sound like much of a joint venture where only one side has seen the contract.

  9. davidcallam says:

    Outrageous attitude from so-called professionals to an incoming administration. Can those same officers be trusted not to leak sensitive discussions?

    There is plenty of expertise available elsewhere in local government who could run Croydon better than the present administrative team: goodness, it wouldn’t be difficult to set and maintain a higher standard.

    I suggest that someone explains to Nathan Elvery & Co that a Labour boss is infinitely preferable to a Labour Exchange.

    • east1956 says:

      The professional standards in local authorities is largely determined by elected members. If senior officers behave in a manner that does not accord to the standards that we expect, we must look to the environment they operate in to identify the causes.
      If the elected leadership chooses to distance itself from the workforce, and not to engage with the average public servant in the councils employ, then ostensibly they create a permissive environment in which ambitious and often self-serving officers can come to dominate.
      Local authorities have “whistleblowing” complaints mechanisms that ideally provide a means in which junior staff may raise serious issues to the attention of the leadership. However if elected members have no direct involvement in the handling of these complaints and do not review progress from complaint submission, investigation to conclusion, and if senior management are behaving in a manner that its unacceptable there is no likelihood that this behaviour would be dealt with. Neither will junior officers have confidence in the complaint system. Such an situation fosters an environment where systemic workplace bullying can develop.
      Any incoming administration, committed to reform, should review the various complaints systems and staff surveys in detail. What it shouldn’t do is rely upon senior management summaries. To illustrate why not, under the direction of David Wechsler an extensive staff survey was conducted and Mr, Wechsler announced that the details would be made available to staff. However, the survey obtained a response where large numbers of junior & middle ranked officers voice deep dissatisfaction, identifying behaviours that clearly conflicted with the values that Mr Wechsler espoused. While Mr Wechsler intended that the council adhere to these values, he found himself with a damning commentary of his middle and senior management. As Chief Exec he was trapped between wanting change, but being lumbered with a senior management team that diverge from those values. As we know it was David Wechsler that lost his job, and not the senior management team.
      It would suggest that the issues relating to the conduct of Croydon’s senior management are long standing and will require considerable determination to change. Whether Tony Newman’s team has that strength of purpose is anyone’s guess at this stage. How the council senior management team assesses Newman’s team’s determination will shape their response, and whether they decide to challenge the new political leadership.

      • davidcallam says:

        A really fascinating insight, for which we should all be grateful, particularly Tony Newman. Nobody said the leader’s job would be easy, but Mr Newman wanted it, now he needs to do it properly.

        • east1956 says:

          I don’t suppose Mr Newman will read it, let alone explore the issues. But thank you for your kind comment.
          In my own view I suspect that Mr Newman doesn’t have access to the critical information of why Labour’s earlier attempts to reform Croydon failed, but he is better placed than 99% of Croydon’s taxpayers. He is of course in the invidious position of having to rely upon the very senior management team that are the authors of the problems that the Labour party identify.

          I believe that what Croydon needs is an experienced Chief Executive who is at the end of his or her career and who is looking for the final challenge. That person should be someone with front-line experience. Croydon Council seems to forget that it obtains money only to deliver services to the residents of Croydon, and that all the “back office” functions are simply support roles for the front-line services.

  10. east1956 says:

    Another observation about the impact of organisational culture is the council’s tendency to enthusiastically interpret “commercial confidentiality” when opposition members request sight of contracts.

    In the first instance, excessive withholding of documents fosters a distrust between officers and elected officials. Councillors reasonably believe that they have been elected to act on behalf of the community and to actively scrutinise the activities of the Council. To achieve this, they must have access to the relevant information. Some things may be commercially confidential, but most things are not.

    The other problem is that if the current authority has entered into a contractual arrangement in which the authority would be exposed to significant and punitive financial penalties should it subsequently fail to perform under the contract, that is an operational risk. Withholding any or all of this information means that an opposition party, preparing for an election, cannot put forward with any certainty a manifesto containing spending proposals or changes in policy.

    Although there is known opposition to the current incinerator proposals, particularly in the north of the borough that will be exposed to increased pollution, the Labour Party may now be bound into the agreement simply because the consequences of withdrawing from the arrangement are severe.

    The project manager for the incinerator project should have evaluated the risks to the project and the council, one of which of these risks would be a change of administration. That risk should be identified in the Risk Register if it is of such enormity.

    Cllr Newman needs to review the use of the withholding of information on the basis of “commercial confidentiality” if he is to initiate a new culture of openness.

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