The personal data of everyone paying Council Tax in Croydon may have been put at risk by the council’s decision to off-shore parts of its IT development programme to India, according to Town Hall whistle-blowers. STEVEN DOWNES reports
The decision by Croydon’s assistant chief executive, Graham Cadle, to allow large parts of the council’s information technology operation to be off-shored to India in the past month could risk the security of the personal data of every resident in the borough, including the banking details of everyone who receives benefits from the council or makes payments to the council for rent, Council Tax or for parking permits.
That’s the serious concern of IT whistle-blowers who have raised their worries with Inside Croydon after previous complaints, through the council’s formal process, have been ignored.
Cadle, as the council’s assistant chief executive for “customer and transformation”, authorised a contractor, Harry Singh, to go to India earlier this month to supervise the transfer of large parts of Croydon’s digital enabling programme, which is supposed to development software for online forms that enable residents to conduct more of their council business online.
That move online is supposed to save the council millions, mainly in cutting public-facing jobs on helpdesks or in call centres.
Singh, who is paid £787 per day by Croydon Council, is an unusual appointment for the task. Colleagues accuse Singh of having a “bodge it and scarper” approach to program development.
Cadle is the godfather of Singh’s child. Its mother is Karen Sullivan, the head of revenues and benefits, whose boss is Cadle.
Between the three, they have taken decisions over confidential data of hundreds of thousands of people which colleagues within the department are most uncomfortable with. “We cannot overlook the fact that Croydon residents’ data is, right now, being worked on in India,” the concerned IT technician told Inside Croydon today.
“Normally, in other organisations I have worked with, this kind of sensitive data would be ‘scrambled’, but in this case we have opened up and given carte blanche access on the promise that the data will be kept secure.”
The technician claims that the decision to offshore parts of the council’s operation to India could cost the jobs of between four and six experienced tech engineers. The council believes it is saving money by taking on two full-time developers in India, at a cost of £12,000 per month.
The decision to offshore the operation came around the same time that the digital enabling programme had burned through its entire year’s budget of £8.4million in just five months. The executives who made the decision to offshore included Cadle, Singh and Sullivan.
“It might save the council a few bob, and it saves Harry’s arse short-term, but the move may put all the borough’s residents’ personal data in jeopardy,” another council source said.
“Given Harry’s track record in failing to deliver or fix the problems his small team has created, it is not a move that I can regard with any great degree of confidence.”
The whistle-blowers are not the only people expressing concern about data security issues and the budget overspend by Singh and the digital enabling programme.
Matthew Wallbridge is the council’s head of ICT. It was his report to the council in December 2014, supported by cabinet member Mark Watson, which recommended taking up the digital enabling programme, though there was no mention then of £8.4million annual budgets for a project which might deliver £2.75million annual savings.
Inside Croydon understands that Wallbridge has been asking some pointed questions about the digital enabling programme’s budgets and who has been making decisions about its management.
According to the council source, “Some people are beginning to wake-up to the fact that digital enabling is working like a machine built to get money out of the council without any governance.”
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