Red-faces all-round in Fisher’s Folly, the council’s over-expensive offices, after the company which was set up to provide a smart phone app to help keep rubbish off the borough’s streets has been dragged through the courts after just 18 months with a pile of unpaid debts.
According to senior council figures this week, the council’s “officers” – that’s the borough’s civil servants – responsible for this important area of work were unaware of the legal action against one of their own contractors.
It is reasonable to assume that if it hadn’t been for Croydon Council, Sensemble as an operating company may never have come into existence.
The company was only formed in November 2013 by Harwinder, or Harry, Singh, who operated the business out of a flat in Battersea. Despite his having no track record in app development, within a fortnight of registering Sensemble at Companies House Singh had landed himself the contract to develop the MyCroydon app to allow residents to report dumped cars, dead cats and fly-tips to their council. The contract was arranged during the previous Conservative administration, when the cabinet member responsible was Councillor Phil Thomas.
Singh’s tech company didn’t even have a functioning website when Croydon Council awarded him the deal.
And he landed the business all without having to go through competitive tendering.
According to Croydon Council, no tendering was necessary “because of the very low value of the work. The app was developed with existing project resource”.
Croydon prides itself on hosting a burgeoning new tech centre, so it seems odd that no local firms were given a chance to pitch, and a tad embarrassing that other open source apps, such as FixMyStreet, already exist which might have been used to perform the function, with better, tested software, and at almost no public expense at all. But by this time last year, eight months into the project, and Sensemble’s “very low value” work had already totted up to £17,000 in costs to Croydon Council Tax-payers.
But at least one disgruntled programmer worked for Sensemble and struggled to get paid for his efforts. As Inside Croydon has reported previously, they told us: “This is a fake-it-till-you-make-it company. Working for them was the worst experience of my entire life.”
By July last year, Singh was working with Croydon’s IT providers, Crapita, hoping to sell-on the service to other equally gullible local authorities. It has proved to be a hard sell.
After its first year, the uptake of the app in Croydon had been poor, with just 35,000 downloads among the borough’s population of 370,000. Many of those downloads are believed to be repeats, while lots of reviewers have abandoned the mis-firing app as being not fit for purpose.
“In the end, what Croydon got is a crap app, full of bugs,” the whistleblower told us. “All Sensemble 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.”
The disgruntled ex-worker is not the only one chasing unpaid bills: a winding up order against Sensemble was filed to the High Court on June 30 by Covent Garden-based Venn Group, a recruitment agency which provided Singh’s operation with programmers and other staff.
Which sort of leaves Croydon Council’s MyCroydon app in a similar state to the borough’s streets: a bit of a mess.
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