Councillors are not ‘Appy with MyCroydon’s performance

Croydon app picsThe MyCroydon smartphone app, a vital part of Labour’s new council administration’s “Don’t Mess With Croydon” T-shirt and slogans campaign, doesn’t work properly.

Who says so? A group of Labour councillors, including the deputy cabinet member for T-shirts and slogans.

MyCroydon 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.

As Inside Croydon first reported earlier this year, the previous Tory council never put the contract for the MyCroydon app out to public tender, snubbing the many coders and app development companies based in Croydon.

Despite being a public body spending public money, Croydon Council refused to provide any details about how the work for MyCroydon was awarded, or how much it cost: “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,” they said.

Inside Croydon has since discovered that that “very low value of work” amounted to £12,000 of Council Tax-payers’ cash.

At the time, this may have represented a saving of less than £6,000 on buying-in an off-the-shelf, existing and tried and tested version of the application (not that the council bothered tendering to find out for sure). But since its launch, Croydon has had to pay thousands of pounds more to upgrade and update the bug-ridden original MyCroydon app.

Graham Cadle is the council’s “director of customer, transformation and communications services”. It was Cadle, under the then Conservative cabinet member responsible for the state of our streets, Councillor Phil Thomas, who decided to award the contract.

Cadle, presumably with the knowledge of Thomas, chose a company, Sensemble, which was only formed last November, barely three weeks before the MyCroydon app went live.

And what Croydon Council bought was hardly original programming. As Jonny Rose suggested when he reviewed the MyCroydon app, it appears to be a re-skinning of other existing apps.

When launched, the app was found to have a number of snagging issues which deterred users. Many of these have been addressed, though not all. The nature of the bugs suggests that the app had not been properly trialled before being bought-in by Croydon Council.

The threatening Don't Mess With Croydon posters, asking residents to download an app which still has multiple snagging issues

The threatening Don’t Mess With Croydon posters, asking residents to download an app which still has multiple snagging issues

In May this year, Labour seized control of Croydon Town Hall at the local elections largely on a pledge to clean up our streets, and they quickly published a set of posters threatening on-the-spot fines and other dire consequences for fly-tippers and anyone else who tries to “Mess With Croydon”.

One of the key tools in the strategy to catch the fly-tippers is supposed to be the MyCroydon app. The intention is to get thousands of law-abiding Croydon residents to police the borough’s streets and make it more difficult for criminal tippers to get away with it, as had become the case under the Conservatives: in 2013, Croydon Council successfully prosecuted just 1 per cent of the fly-tipping cases reported.

According to Cadle’s own figures, by the middle of July – eight months after its launch – MyCroydon had been downloaded 3,500 times. Croydon has a population of more than 364,000.

The total number of reports submitted to the council via the app had reached 2,400.

Cadle’s briefing to councillors included a number of user reviews, all of them glowing in praise – while conveniently omitting any of the accumulating number of negative reviews to be found on Apple’s App Store from users frustrated at the app’s many short-comings.

Cadle need not look far for a more balanced and objective review of the MyCroydon app, since a handful of Labour councillors had submitted their own comments.

These councillors included Stuart King, the deputy cabinet member for T-shirts and slogans. Councillor King’s difficulties in using the app have been common to many: “When using the app (via iPad) to report fly-tipping I find it difficult to use the grid map functionality to exactly pinpoint the location… It would be easier for all if the grid map were easier to use.”

Phil Thomas: was the cabinet member in charge when MyCroydon contract was awarded

Conservative councillor Phil Thomas: was the cabinet member in charge when MyCroydon app contract was awarded without tendering

Another councillor noted: “I am frustrated as there is no feedback as to whether an issue that has been reported has been dealt with or not.” They added, “Equally, there is no way of seeing what you have previously reported,” a recurring complaint and one which appears to have been corrected in more recent upgrades.

A third councillor said, “I tried to use the app to report fly-tipping several times before the election but I don’t think it worked even once… The app couldn’t pinpoint my location, or took so long to do so that it looked frozen so I gave up.

“Even if the speed is fixed and it may only take a few minutes to photograph and report the fault, it still feels like a long time standing in the road like an idiot getting in people’s way.”

They also highlighted a serious design flaw: “It is utterly useless if you spot a problem from a bus or car in motion.”

This was confirmed by King: “When I tried to report a fly-tip while away on work, the app wouldn’t let me zoom in to a Croydon location and so it appeared that I was trying to report a fly-tip in Liverpool.

“The app appears to require me to attach a photo – I don’t always have one.”

Of course, there was a time when a simple phone call to the council, or even an email, might suffice to report any incidents which might require attention. The MyCroydon app could well supplement and enhance such services, although the council’s real agenda for foisting on the public the derivative, half-baked, not properly functioning app has always been to cut costs.

Laying off many of the council’s call centre staff and steering the public to using remote, online services, such as the misfiring app, has so far “enabled over £3 million per annum efficiencies”, according to Cadle’s report.

And Cadle states: “To date, we have not cut/stopped the more expensive contact channels,” by which he means the ones that employ real people, “… however, that is an option if they are not seen as a resident priority and further efficiencies are required to meet budget challenges.”

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2 Responses to Councillors are not ‘Appy with MyCroydon’s performance

  1. Mary Wolf says:

    It would probably have cost the Council much, much more than £12,000 to go through the tender process from scratch. What it would be good to know is that the Council has a list of ‘approved suppliers’ for such services and that Sensemble appears on that list. However that seems unlikely if the timing was as you state.

  2. Not so, Mary.

    When we broke the story of the contract being awarded without any tendering earlier this year, it took us two phone calls to find an established app developer who might have pitched already functioning software for less than the £12,000 cited. And they are based in Croydon.

    The point of any tendering process is to get the best value for money for the local tax-payers, and to ensure that public contracts have been awarded fairly. Is anyone certain that this happened in this instance?

    If any tendering process for a deal of this scale was ever to cost £12,000, then the person at the head of the council’s finance department and procurement – in this case Nathan Elvery – ought to resign.

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