A two-month investigation into Croydon Council’s IT operation has uncovered major concerns over procurement and payments. STEVEN DOWNES reportsCroydon Council is undertaking its second internal investigation this year into the conduct of its assistant chief executive.
Graham Cadle is Croydon Council’s assistant chief executive for “customer and transformation”, a £150,000-a-year role he was promoted to in 2015.
Earlier this year, Cadle’s conduct was the subject of an internal investigation after he failed to declare a close personal relationship with a contractor hired on his watch.
That contractor is being paid £787.36 per day by Croydon Council. They are working on something called the “digital enabling programme” which other council workers have described as “a machine built to get money out of the council without any governance”.
This contractor being paid so handsomely is Harwinder “Harry” Singh. That’s the same IT “whizz-kid” with no background as a software developer whom Cadle previously commissioned at vast expense to develop Croydon’s very own crap app, MyCroydon.
Singh was first hired by Croydon in November 2013 to deliver the smart phone application.
There was never any public procurement exercise. Because the deal was initially agreed just below the minimum value at which such procurements needed to be scrutinised by elected councillors, Cadle was able to award the deal under the “delegated authority” given to senior council officials. Within eight months of being “on the books” with Croydon, the costs of Singh’s crap app had more than trebled. This was set against a soaring number of complaints about the bug-ridden poor functionality of the app.
At the time the contract was awarded by Cadle, Singh had no corporate track record in the IT business, he had not yet registered a company and did not even have a functioning website.The council explained the absence of any competitive tendering by saying 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.”
In July 2014, Cadle appeared before councillors at the council’s scrutiny committee, where instead of focusing on the many snagging issues raised about the crap app – by members of the scrutiny committee, as well as many residents – Cadle chose instead to boast of the success of MyCroydon, claiming that it had “enabled over £3million per annum efficiencies”.
Sitting alongside Cadle in front of the scrutiny committee in the Town Hall chamber that evening, backing him up in his account of the success of this digital-only approach, was Harry Singh, together with Karen Sullivan, the council’s head of revenues and benefits.
Sensemble went bust in November 2016, owing more than £100,000, mainly in unpaid tax bills. Any hopes of Singh’s company developing other apps, which in turn might be “re-skinned” and flogged on to other, unsuspecting local authorities, had come to nothing.
Singh’s company had been subject to debt recovery action through the courts for more than a year. Singh is currently disqualified from holding any company directorships.
But that hasn’t deterred Graham Cadle, who has for most of 2017 hired in Singh to carry out work for the council’s “digital and enabling programme”, which has a budget of £8.4million.
Although he does not get paid for every working day in a month (in March, Singh was paid £18,109.28 for 23 days’ work; in April, he got £14,172.48 for 18 days), the failed company director’s daily fee from Croydon works out at a rate of more than £200,000 per year.
This cosy relationship was not declared by Cadle, Sullivan or Singh until around Easter this year, after a whistle-blower working at the council flagged up concerns to the Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker.
And now it has emerged that Graham Cadle is the godfather of the child of Harry Singh and Karen Sullivan. As the head of revenues and benefits, Sullivan, too, works in Cadle’s area of responsibility in Croydon Council.
This concern prompted the first internal investigation, conducted by Simon Maddocks, Croydon’s director of governance.
According to a senior Town Hall source, after that inquiry, Cadle, Singh and Sullivan escaped with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
“The three involved had to register their connections in the internal officers’ register of interest. They weren’t reprimanded but advised that these type of relationships have to be disclosed, no matter how private and personal they felt they are,” according to the source.
Cadle has been godfather to the child of Singh and Sullivan for around three years – so it had taken him a while to get round to declaring the close personal friendship.
And that declaration only came after Cadle had taken on his godchild’s father at a daily pay rate higher than any other trained or experienced software engineer on his special project team.
When Sensemble was first providing the MyCroydon app, developers who were hired by Singh to work on the product accused him of “re-skinning” – or re-packaging – existing smart phone programming, and passing it off as his own work, at significant expense to Croydon Council Tax-payers.
“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’,” a developer who had worked for Singh told Inside Croydon.
They described Singh’s Sensemble as “a fake-it-till-you-make-it company”.And they said that, “Working for them was the worst experience of my entire life.”
Since Sensemble crashed 12 months ago, Singh appears to have landed on his feet at Croydon – and in India.
Because not satisfied with the supposed cost savings of the MyCroydon app, Cadle has tasked his mate to save the council money by off-shoring other IT operations to the sub-continent.
Staff working at the council relate that Singh and contractors on Cadle’s “digital and enabling programme” have been operating completely separately from the council’s specialist and experienced IT suppliers for many months.
“We’re not allowed to contact Singh or his developers,” one IT specialist told Inside Croydon. “Only Singh instructs developers.”
They allege that Singh’s operation is silo’d within the council, with no, or very little, in the way of a recognised audit trail. Croydon Council has a multi-million pound contract for IT services with Crapta, the outsourcing specialists. According to reports from within Fisher’s Folly, Singh has been given licence by Cadle to run his operation entirely separately from existing IT functions.
A bodge it and scarper approach
“The digital enabling programme is supposed to be delivering 12 prestige projects. It’s all about making the council digital-only, providing forms for the council’s services and functions, so that the council can reduce the number of call centre staff and everything gets done online.
“The level of resources devoted to it has been off the scale.
“It was all due to be completed by June this year, but not a single project, a single form, has been delivered.”
The council worker suggested that the current chief exec, Jo Negrini, has been “on the war path” over the spiralling costs and poor delivery of Cadle and Singh’s digital and enabling programme.
“It’s a bodge it and scarper approach,” they said.
An online form for repairs to council housing is so full of bugs that it remains unusable by Croydon tenants, they say. “It means all the queries from the public have to come in by phone – they don’t have the staff in the call centre to cope with the number of complaints they are receiving. And Harry has proved completely unable to fix any of the bugs in the form’s programming.”
Another IT worker alleges that a program for fixed penalty notices, which is supposed to be used by a team of 40 council inspectors who patrol the town centre’s streets primed to issue fines for littering and other anti-social behaviour, “simply does not work”.
They said, “They are equipped with this mobile app that doesn’t actually function.”
Documents seen by Inside Croydon show that despite its generous £8.4million budget for 2017-2018, the project Singh has been working on was showing an overspend of £142,000 by August – just five months into the financial year.
Possibly in an effort to finish the work now that the budgeted money has run out, Singh was sent to India earlier this month to oversee the off-shoring of this work.Now, the council has contracted two full-time roles in India to support its MyAccount digital activities, at a cost of £12,000 per month – less than it would cost to pay IT developers based in Croydon.
Sources inside Fisher’s Folly suggest that moving the tactical development team to India will mean the loss of up to six senior jobs in Croydon. “These are good, professional, competent people, and their careers and families are being sacrificed to cover-up for Harry’s expensive failures,” the source said.
We wanted to ask Singh about his lucky break and getting paid handsomely by Croydon Council after the failure of his own business. He referred the enquiry to Graham Cadle.
Cadle has been on the staff at Croydon Council since 2008, rising through the hierarchy almost unnoticed during the various rounds of redundancies and re-organisations until being promoted to his present role in 2015 by the local authority’s previous CEO, Nathan Elvery.
We had a list of detailed questions we wanted to put to Cadle about his hiring of family friends on day rates that work out to £200,000 per year, without voluntarily making any declarations of the relationship, and about the failures and lack of delivery of the various projects which his chum Harry Singh has been working on.
Cadle has not replied to our approach.
He might have to answer some questions from the council’s monitoring officer, though.
This month, Inside Croydon presented our file to a senior Labour councillor. They were sufficiently concerned by the issues raised that they arranged an immediate appointment with the Borough Solicitor, Harris-Baker. As the council’s monitoring officer, she ordered a further investigation into the activities of Cadle, Singh and Sullivan.
There’s a touch of “marking your own homework” about this latest council internal inquiry, though. Simon Maddocks, who investigated the Cadle-Singh-Sullivan situation earlier this year when no disciplinary action was taken, has been asked to review the position again.
A Katharine Street source said this morning, “There is nothing about the handling of this whole business which could easily be described as ‘good governance’.
“You have a situation here where large amounts of public money are being paid to a family friend, with no declarations, as are required under the code of conduct.
“Where are the checks and balances? None of this has ever been raised at council meetings or cabinet meetings. Councillors have never been told about how a £8million-a-year project has failed to deliver on any of its tasks, and which is overspending heavily.
“The matter of off-shoring the work to India has also never been raised in council discussions as far as I am aware.
“It seems – just like with the crisis over Children’s Services – senior staff at the council are keeping some matters close to their chest and not providing full and frank reports to councillors, who are there to protect the public interest.
“And how an experienced executive of the council can start handing out juicy deals to friends of the family without bothering to tell anyone beggars belief. I am astonished that anyone has managed to survive one investigation into their conduct over this, never mind two.”
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