STEVEN DOWNES reports on the abrupt exit of the man behind Croydon’s ‘crap app’, following a serious breach of the Town Hall’s code of conduct
Harwinder “Harry” Singh, Croydon Council’s £787-a-day “fake-it-till-you-make-it” IT consultant, is no longer working for the authority.
Singh fell off the council-funded gravy train soon after Graham Cadle, the godfather to his child, left his job as the council’s “director of corporate service” last month.
The council has made no public announcement regarding the sudden exits of such senior staffers, but confirmed Singh’s departure last week.
The council has refused to answer questions regarding any pay-offs which might have been made to Cadle or Singh. Although the matter has been going on under his nose for four years, Tony Newman, the leader of the council, has remained silent on the matter and refused to answer any enquiries on the affair.
The twin departures of Singh and Cadle, who for a time was described as Croydon’s assistant chief executive and who was on a salary of £150,000 per year, follow a lengthy investigation by Inside Croydon, after senior council officials had covered up the outcome of its own enquiries into their undeclared friendship.
Under Croydon’s code of conduct, council workers – especially those in senior positions, such as Cadle, who dole out contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds – are expected to declare all relationships that exist with staff or contractors.
Singh is the father of a child with Karen Sullivan, the council’s head of revenues and benefits, and who used to report to Cadle.
The trio never declared the relationship unprompted, and although the matter was investigated by the council early in 2017 after a whistleblower’s complaint, no disciplinary action was taken. Indeed, the council’s most senior staff kept the investigation a secret from the borough’s elected councillors for six months.
Only after Inside Croydon brought the matter to the attention of Sean Fitzsimons, the chair of the council’s scrutiny committee, was a second investigation started. Two months later, Cadle and Singh had left the council.
Cadle had 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 a director role in 2015 by the local authority’s previous CEO, Nathan Elvery.
It was Cadle who, in 2013, first gave lucrative council work to Singh. There was no competitive tendering involved in Cadle’s decision-making, and the procurement of Singh’s services were never presented to elected councillors for scrutiny or approval. Croydon-based app designers were snubbed.
Cadle hired Singh to produce a smartphone app, when there were already similar apps available for use and adaptation freely available.
Because the deal was initially agreed just below the minimum value at which such procurements needed to be scrutinised, 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 MyCroydon, Singh’s misfunctioning 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.
When the matter was brought before the council’s scrutiny committee, the council officials who appeared in the Town Hall chamber to explain the snags, bugs, flaws and steepling costs of the crap app were Cadle, Singh and Sullivan.
Sensemble, the company Singh established after being handed the Croydon contract, folded in late 2016 with debts of more than £100,000, mainly owed to the tax man. Within a few weeks of the collapse of the Sensemble, Cadle had hired Singh as an individual contractor on £787.36 per day – the equivalent rate of £200,000 per year.
This time round, crap app man Singh was working on something called the “digital enabling programme”, which other council IT technicians have described as “a machine built to get money out of the council without any governance”.
By the end of 2017, Cadle and Singh’s project, despite a £8.4million budget, had overspent by £700,000 and remains unfinished.
There appears little prospect of Council Tax-payers getting any reliable returns on that “investment”, and there is genuine cause for concern that there may yet be other “hidden” costs through a six-figure golden handshake pay-off for Cadle.
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