STEVEN DOWNES reports on the apparent departure from Fisher’s Folly of a council assistant chief executive who handed out £787.36-a-day to a family friend
Graham Cadle, “The Godfather” of Croydon Council, has tonight cleared his desk for a final time.
Unconfirmed reports from within Fisher’s Folly say that “all staff have been written to today to confirm that Graham Cadle is leaving the council”.
Cadle was effectively No3 among the professional staff at the council. He was the £150,000 per year assistant chief executive for “customer and transformation”, a role he was promoted to in 2015 by Jo Negrini, the council’s chief executive.
According to our source, today’s message was sent round the council not by Negrini, but by Richard Simpson, the council’s executive director for resources.
“Cadle has clearly been made an offer he can’t refuse,” according to our source.Inside Croydon tried to contact the council press office, but their answer phone was switched on, and it did not offer an emergency, out-of-hours number to reach a duty press officer, as you might expect.
Negrini had received and read our emailed enquiry, but by the time of publication of this report, neither she nor Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour-controlled council, had responded to our enquiries.
What is known is that, as a result of Inside Croydon’s investigation, the Borough Solicitor last October ordered a second review of the conduct of Cadle and two staff who report to him, IT consultant Harwinder “Harry” Singh and Karen Sullivan, the council’s head of revenues and benefits.
Singh and Sullivan have a child together, and Cadle is its godfather. This close, personal relationship was something which none of the trio bothered to declare – as is required under their work contracts and the council’s code of conduct.
Cadle had hired Singh on £787.36 per day to work on something called the “digital enabling programme”.
Other council workers familiar with the council’s IT procurements and systems have described digital enabling as “a machine built to get money out of the council without any governance”.
A simple breach of contract over a matter such as this would normally lead to dismissal. Yet when the Borough Solicitor, Jacqueline Harris-Baker, oversaw an investigation into the affair in April last year, following concerns raised by a whistle-blower, Cadle, Singh and Sullivan retrospectively declared their relationship… and then carried on as if nothing had changed. It was as if the council hierarchy wanted the matter hushed up.
Some have suggested that such an egregious breach of the code of conduct, involving such large sums of public money, ought to have been reported to the police.
Only when Inside Croydon brought the matter to the attention of Councillor Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, was the matter raised with Harris-Baker again and the second investigation ordered.
By this time, the £8.4million budget for the digital enabling programme, overseen by Cadle, had been overspent in rapid time. Last month, the overspend was being reported to council meetings as amounting to at least £700,000, with the project nine months overdue.
Singh is the same IT “whizz-kid” whom Cadle first commissioned in November 2013 to develop Croydon’s very own crap app, MyCroydon, at vast public expense. Cadle did so with no scrutiny from councillors, since he was able to use “delegated authority” to push the appointment through under the radar, without approval by elected members.
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.”
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.
This was set against a soaring number of complaints about the bug-ridden poor functionality of the app.
In July 2014, Cadle appeared before the council’s scrutiny committee, where instead of focusing on the many snagging issues with the crap app – raised by councillors on 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 company Singh established to handle his Croydon Council work, Sensemble, went bust in November 2016, owing more than £100,000, mainly in unpaid tax bills.
IT technicians who worked for Sensemble described it as “a fake-it-till-you-make-it company”.
Singh’s company was subject to debt recovery action through the courts for more than a year. As a result of the company’s collapse, Singh was disqualified from holding any company directorships.
But that didn’t deter Cadle, who quickly hired Singh as an individual contractor in early 2017. By this time, Cadle had been godfather to Singh’s child for more than two years.
Singh was immediately paid at a daily rate higher than any other trained or experienced software engineer on the council project team.
With costs over-running wildly and little progress being made to deliver the online forms and organise the council’s back-office operation that Cadle had promised Negrini, by last autumn, Singh was despatched to India to off-shore much of the work.
This had two effects: London-based IT engineers had their work with Croydon cancelled just before Christmas to save the council money, and anyone who has ever provided any personal information to Croydon Council – Council Tax-payers, benefit claimaints, tenants or businesses – was having that put at significant risk of a data breach because the council was providing access to its live database to technicians based outside the European data “safe area”.
Croydon Council maintains thaat this action does not break the requirements of the Data Protection Act, because there has been no physical transfer of the data. They’ve just allowed Indian technicians full access to their live database, with all the security risks that that might entail…
Although Singh was not paid for every working day in any given month, the “fake it till he makes it” failed company director’s daily fee from Croydon worked out at a rate of more than £200,000 per year.
Now, if the Godfather has left the council, those generous pay days may be over.
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