At least one senior council employee may have discovered an ability to act as a ‘rainmaker’ for private business, as KEN LEE reports
The revolving door between Fisher’s Folly, Croydon Council’s head offices, and contractors who get juicy contracts from the council appears to be spinning faster than usual, with the impending departure of Matthew Wallbridge, the borough’s “head of ICT and transformation”.
No public announcement has been made by Croydon Council’s dynamic press team about the loss of such a well-paid, senior and, no doubt, highly regarded figure. But Inside Croydon has confirmed that he is off at the end of September to start a new job with IT firm Rainmaker Solutions.
Coincidentally, this is the same Rainmaker Solutions who in March of this year was announced as having been awarded a publicly funded contract worth, according to the government, between £1million and £5million… as ICT consultants to Croydon Council.
Wallbridge has worked at Croydon Council since 2014.
According to sources inside Fisher’s Folly, Wallbridge handed in his resignation from his six-figure salaried council job in June, just weeks after the Rainmaker deal was announced.
A statement on one of the council’s recruitment websites had carried this announcement on March 21: “Croydon Council has appointed Rainmaker Solutions as its strategic partner for the ‘Good to Great’ multi-sourcing programme that will implement new ICT capability across the council over the next three years.
“The Good to Great Programme recognises the step change in business value the council needs from ICT in the future. It is a key enabler for the council to design effective and efficient ICT solutions that deliver great services to customers, residents and staff, making a real difference to people’s lives.” Yadda, yadda, yadda…
Rainmaker Solutions also runs the Resourcing Hub, who just so happen to undertake IT recruitment for Croydon Council. They were appointed in November 2017, on Wallbridge’s watch. Trebles all round!
The Resourcing Hub seems particularly keen on featuring “Matthew, the boss”, as they refer to him on their Croydon recuitment site. Wallbridge is quoted in at least three features on the Resourcing Hub’s website, and is the star of a low-budget in-house movie, too.
“In terms of recruitment,” Wallbridge states, looking straight down the camera lens, “I want great people working in ICT. Not good people… great people. They’ve got to be world-class.” Truly inspirational stuff.
“What’s really great about working for Croydon Council,” Wallbridge confides later in the video, “is the ability to progress your career.”
Never a truer word, and all that…
Potentially embarrassing for Wallbridge and his own boss, council CEO Jo Negrini, is the appearance, albeit fleetingly, of Graham Cadle in their video.
Cadle is one of the council “characters” who pop up in clips in the opening sequence.
He is the former assistant chief executive at the council who left his post earlier this year after the second of two investigations into how he had managed to pay £787 per day to a single IT contractor. Neither Cadle nor the contractor, Harry Singh, volunteered the information that Cadle just happened to be the godfather to Singh’s child.
In January 2017, as Croydon’s chief information officer, Wallbridge took on many of the tasks for which Cadle had been responsible. This may have included telling Harry Singh that his time on the council gravy train had finally hit the buffers.
At the time that Rainmaker Solutions were signed up, Wallbridge signed off on some typically gushing quotes for a council press release. It includes many of the empty words and phrases so beloved of Negrini’s senior staff.
“We are pleased to be partnering with Rainmaker, whose core values and purpose have helped envision our journey by challenging the status quo through team collaboration across our business,” Wallbridge is supposed to have said.
“Their ‘on the ground’ experience in supplier disaggregation and transformation has empowered Croydon to push the boundaries further towards delivering great services for the residents of Croydon and enabling technology to make a real difference to people’s lives.”
Answers on a postcard, to J Negrini, Fisher’s Folly, for the best efforts at translating what any of that old flannel that might mean…
But when talking about his approach to recruiting IT staff, Wallbridge was more forthcoming about life at Fisher’s Folly. When interviewing candidates, Wallbridge said, “I tell them my story that I’ve got an eight-month-old daughter, I recently got married, and I want to leave at a decent time to spend time with the family and do the school run on Friday.”
Which possibly offers one explanation why Croydon’s Council Tax-payers find it so difficult to get through on the phone to anyone on the council on Friday afternoons.
This may not be the most egregious example of the revolving door process from Croydon Council. In 2015, while working for the council, Matthew McMillan recommended a £3million council loan for Boxpark. The loan safely secured, McMillan promptly left the council and walked into a senior post working for Boxpark, all the time denying any conflict of interest.
And unlike with the Singh and Cadle case, Wallbridge is unlikely to have had sole oversight of the procurement process for Rainmaker.
This was managed for Croydon by a relatively new government agency, the Crown Commercial Service.
CCS published a press release last week using the hiring of Rainmaker Solutions, an SME with around 120 employees and a £20million turnover (much of its work being outsourced from the public sector), as a case study.
Rainmaker Solutions say that it places great store in its ethical approach to doing business.
They even have a web page which states, “At Rainmaker, our values define us”.
If Google used to have “Don’t do evil” in its code of conduct, then Rainmaker has its “Always do the right thing”, which stresses a commitment to integrity. “We are not afraid to walk away from potentially profitable work on the basis that it is counter to our culture or values,” they state.
The CCS government agency case study concludes with a glowing testimonial: “Crucial to the success of our ICT Good 2 Great programme was selecting a delivery partner that gave us the best opportunity of making a real difference to people’s lives and give the organisation the great ICT ecosystem they deserve. To do this, we used the CCS framework to ensure there was a truly competitive procurement process, and that we received bids from a variety of different suppliers, both large, medium and small, who brought their own unique approaches and experience.
“Through the procurement process, along with prior engagement and clarifications, Croydon has managed to get the best result with a provider who not only has the real delivery experience in the disaggregation of services in ICT, but has the right culture and values to work with as a truly joined up team that are driven by getting to great.”
The testimonial was written by Croydon Council’s head of ICT and transformation… Matthew Wallbridge.
Even if Wallbridge did not have direct say in awarding the multi-million-pound council contract with Rainmaker Solutions, the glowing testimonial surely won’t have harmed his own prospects of, as he might put it, “progressing his own career”.
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Well it was ever thus, I guess!!! For years now ex service personnel have taken jobs in industry closely associated with their earlier posting, after all they have the inside knowledge that their new masters need!
There used to be some jobs that, as part of the contract, one could not do this for a stated number of years, but all that seems to have gone now. Its also interesting as, on a personal level, I have been trying to get information about rental payments on council property using the internet. The latest info I have is that this facility has been down, or giving trouble for some time. Another bit of IT ” usefulness” is a web site poster that says ring the central council number for more information – when you get there you are given some 10 options non of which help and which finish up saying go to the internet and you will find the answers. (Round and round we go in circles)
May be a new face will solve all this, but I doubt it!
Wouldn’t a letter be a simply way of approaching this with the Council, but knowing the quality of service provided by Croydon it would probably be have to be turned into a freedom of information enquiry.
My experience is that FOI requests are usually ignored by the Council, letters, if you get the right person, are replied to
Clearly the financial and audit controls that manage local government contracts implemented by the Austerity Government are completely inadequate. This use of feather bedding lucrative private sector jobs by awarding a contract to your future employer is corrupt. Any future reforming administration has to protect the local authority resident from such mercenary practices which (before this Tory Administration cut it ) would at least had attracted the attention of the Audit Commission and brought some scrutiny on this matter. The only problem we face is that the Tory opposition in Croydon will not complain about it because they are completely complicit in the environment which allows such practices to occur.