A tech worker who carried out work on the MyCroydon app has told Inside Croydon that the company which was given the contract by the council, “is not really an ‘app developer’ or ‘software developer’. All it has done is win a contract from Croydon Council and then outsource that work at rates as cheap as chips to India, with people like myself trying to manage the daily issues.”
Croydon Council has so far paid tens of thousands of pounds to a company, Sensemble, to “develop” the MyCroydon app, when in fact the application is nothing more than the “re-skinning” – or re-packaging – of existing smart phone technology.
The Croydon Council contract for the MyCroydon app was never put out to competitive tender.
“In the end, what Croydon has is a poor app, full of bugs, while the company which got the contract is keeping a large slice of the pie as ‘profits’,” the Sensemble whistle-blower said.
“This is a fake-it-till-you-make-it company. Working for them was the worst experience of my entire life.”
Croydon Council awarded the contract to develop and run the MyCroydon app in November 2013 to a company called Sensemble. At the time, Sensemble was run from a Battersea flat by Harwinder, or Harry, Singh. The company was only registered with Companies House a fortnight before the MyCroydon app was launched – that is after someone at Croydon Council must have determined that they were the best company to provide such expertise.
The council deal with Sensemble was the responsibility of a Town Hall department run by Graham Cadle, Croydon’s director of “customer, transformation and communications services”. In November 2013 Cadle will have been answerable to Tory cabinet member Phil Thomas. The council explained that, “The work was not put out to tender because of the very low value of the work. The app was developed with existing project resource.”
The maximum amount for a council contract to be awarded without going through the competitive tendering process is thought to be £5,000 (Croydon’s procurement process papers are not readily available on the council website…).
But according to the minutes of a council meeting in July 2014 (eight months after MyCroydon’s launch), that “very low value” of public money spent on the app had already reached £17,000. Without there ever being any public tendering.
The council’s multi-million-pound technology contractor, Crapita, was revealed to have a role in the management of the project.
The app is supposed to be central to the council’s strategy for keeping the borough’s streets clean through having residents use their smart phones to report abandoned vehicles, dead cats and fly-tips. But after its first year, the uptake of the app had been poor, with just 35,000 downloads. Many online reviews suggest that Croydon’s rubbish app is… simply rubbish.
The app was found to have a number of snagging issues which deterred users. Even councillors reported to a scrutiny meeting a range of fairly obvious flaws in the app which renders it pretty useless. The nature of the bugs suggest that the app was never properly trialled before being bought-in by Croydon Council.
A council report from last year – available here – offered more “jam tomorrow”, with the possibility of selling the app to other local authorities to pay for its costs: “Members asked why Capita had been chosen as a partner and officers explained that the arrangement gave the borough security and development flexibility. When the app is marketed by Capita, officers explained the council would get a share of the proceeds and free use of future enhancements and improvements.”
To date, no other local authority has succumbed to Crapita’s marketing of the MyCroydon app.
Croydon Council recently announced that it is to establish a “Tech Hub” in some of its unused office real estate in Davis House, offering start-up companies free business rates, low rents and superfast broadband, in a £2million scheme described as a “tech incubator”.
It seems odd, then, that when the council had its own piece of tech work to contract out, they ignored Croydon-based firms and quietly awarded the deal to a company which is based in a Battersea flat and didn’t even have an operating website.
Sensemble now has a registered address in Covent Garden, though as Companies House suggests, “5,835 companies also use this postcode, this might be a mail-forwarding service address”.
The company’s website – now up and running – suggests it is actually based in tech trendy Shoreditch. But according to Companies House documents, Sensemble’s “service address”, that is where the business is really run from, remains Harry Singh’s Battersea flat.
And the company continues to be a one-man band, with Singh listed as Sensemble’s sole director.
Sensemble, as a council contractor, placed much of the work for MyCroydon elsewhere, according to the web developer who contacted us. “Both projects, MyCroydon and OurCroydon, were outsourced to Mappfia to implement multiple updates and fixes to rectify the issues from India,” they told Inside Croydon.
The Sensemble whistleblower described the company’s approach as “hit and run”, to get source codes for applications from a supplier, and then move on with those assets.
Established app designers based in Croydon have estimated that the project could have been delivered for as little as £15,000.
Given that Council Tax-payers of Croydon within a year spent £17,000 on this project, without any competitive tendering, it is surely overdue for Cadle, Thomas and Crapita to provide a full and detailed explanation about how Sensemble ever came to be given the job, and how its costs have been incurred.
Inside Croydon put some of these points to Sensemble’s Harry Singh. Of Mappfia, Singh said, “They are a development company we used to use, but we don’t work with any longer.”
When asked who it was at Croydon Council that he had negotiated with for the contract in 2013, he said it had been done, “through third parties”.
Asked how much Sensemble had been paid since August 2014 for its services, Singh declined to say. “We’re paid through third parties.” We asked again how much his company had been paid in the past year for its work on MyCroydon, and Singh declined to answer.
Asked who these third parties that his company deals with might be, Singh said, “I’ll have to speak to our legal team and get back to you on that.” We asked whether Crapita might have been the third party involved, to which he replied, “Yes, they were involved.”
Asked whether the MyCroydon app had been sold to any other local authorities, Singh said, “Yeah, two more councils have signed contracts with us and should go live later this year.” When asked who these councils might be and what the value of those public contracts might be, Singh declined to tell us because of “confidentiality clauses”.
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