‘Challenging’ deal caused bus shelter delay, councillor says

Ominous: the council-issued CGI of its long-delayed new ‘smart’ bus shelter, positioned outside a previous procurement disaster, the Fairfield Halls

Street-side advertising specialist JCDecaux refused to accept payments to keep its bus shelters in place in Croydon until replacements could be ready, according to a senior member of the council.

Muhammad Ali is the council cabinet member for “sustainable” Croydon.

He has responded to widespread public criticism of the new “smart” shelters, which were supposed to be installed by autumn 2021, by revealing that the council’s efforts to continue with the existing street furniture were thwarted when JCDecaux refused to agree a deal with Town Hall officials.

Croydon bus passengers face a cold, wet and windy winter waiting for their public transport, after JCDecaux removed more than 180 shelters from around the borough in April and May this year.

The Labour councillor told Inside Croydon that the council encountered “challenging contractual arrangements” which had hampered the transition from one supplier to another.

‘Challenging contractual arrangements’: cabinet member Muhammad Ali

“JCDecaux didn’t win the contract and they decided to pull out all their existing shelters without working with the new contractor and the council.

“They were even offered compensation to leave [the old shelters] in and work towards a transition to new shelters, but they didn’t want to work on that.

“JCDecaux’s unilateral decision did not help.

“However the new shelters, when installed, will be better than JCDecaux’s and will generate revenue for the council 10 times that of JCDecaux’s per year.” Croydon says that its 10-year deal with Valo Smart City will bring in £6.75million to the cash-strapped council over the term of the contract.

Councillor Ali did not answer a specific question of how much revenue will be lost in this financial year, 2021-2022, due to the failure to have advertising sites in place on the borough’s bus shelters this year.

Due to challenging contractual arrangements, transition from one to another didn’t go as planned,” he said. “Revenue from this contract can potentially cover what has been lost.” Which does seem to suggest that the council is receiving zero advertising revenue this year.

“This contract will bring more revenue than the previous one,” he said. 

But Ali added, “I am very excited about the arrival of these smart bus shelters, which will make residents’ travel experiences more enjoyable, informative and safer.

Very excited: how the councillor tweeted about the council’s admission that there would be no bus shelters in the borough for at least one year

“The smart city sensors will also act as a great tool in our continued mission to become a greener, more sustainable borough.

“Our partnership with innovators Valo will be our latest step towards Croydon becoming not only a digital council but the first truly connected smart borough which uses technology to enhance and transform the lives of our residents for the better.”

The council issued a press release from its propaganda department on Thursday which confirmed Inside Croydon’s previous reports the deal  with Valo – a company which,in this country, did not even exist until August 2020 – just seven months before JCDecaux’s shelter contract in Croydon expired on March 31 this year.

Despite previous council promises that installation works for the replacement shelters would be done in “autumn 2021”, and then in December this year, the latest statement said that the roll-out would not now begin until March 2022, at the earliest.

Someone in the press department failed to think through their publicity guff.

Accompanying their banal verbal blandishments, the council issued a computer-generated image of one of the “smart” shelters positioned outside… the Fairfield Halls, the same arts venue where a council-led refurbishment project has collapsed into a costly fiasco which is expected to see the council become the subject of an auditors’ Report In The Public Interest over failures to control the procurement process and poor levels of management.

Or maybe the juxtaposition with another costly council disaster was entirely deliberate. And ominously appropriate.

Valo Smart City, or its parent company in the United States, is yet to install any “smart” technology anywhere in the world, has never installed a bus shelter, nor sold any roadside advertising.

Read more: Council’s £6.8m bus shelter deal with 9-month-old tech firm
Read more: Councillor tells officials: ‘Apologise for this incompetence’
Read more: Bus passengers face a wet winter of discontent with no shelters

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12 Responses to ‘Challenging’ deal caused bus shelter delay, councillor says

  1. I do remember mention of planning permission being required … for the revenue-generating advertisements.
    Any news on that? Any problem do you think persuading planners and members to say “yes” to whatever and wherever … as long as it’s quick?

  2. Mike Bird says:

    Hardly a “new” image of the Fairfields Hall Valo City smart bus stop.

    Its this image https://valosmartcity.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/20200_Fairfields_Hall-scaled.jpg

    Straight from the Valo Smart City UK website (domain registered 30 March 2021) and the links and image name implies strongly that it was uploaded/dated in around 22 July 2021.

    Croydon seemingly posting 4 month old images as indications of progress?

  3. Dave West says:

    What planet do these people live on? You take away a contract they had held for many years, then blame them for walking away with their property when the contract ended. Like us, they could probably see that the new provider has no track record and will in all likelihood fail to deliver (they are six months late already) and meanwhile J C Decaux would be left maintaining a load of old bus shelters for minimal revenue for a client that has formally said that it doesn’t want to do business with them!

  4. I’m a bit late to this, but Valo Smart City look interesting – they’re an American company with its UK headquarters in Croydon for heaven’s sake! But, I can’t find anywhere in the UK where they’ve erected their ‘smart shelters’. Decaux have a good and long record of working with London boroughs, including Croydon, so this switch must come with a few risks.

  5. What a fuck up. Croydon Council is not even able to provide continuity of bus shelters.

    Ali says “This contract will bring more revenue than the previous one,” How much more Ali? How much more is worth the stupid flaming upheaval we now all have to endure?

    What the hell is going on? First and foremost these structures are for providing shelter and protection. That officers have fucked up the switchover to the point that we now have no bus shelters is ridiculous and as a result Croydon residents have to stand exposed whilst waiting for a bus – me included.

    This cretinous pissing around with things that do not need changing does not serve this borough or its people and these councillors should pull their fingers out or clear off. Can you be that dumb that you think switching bus shelter suppliers when Croydon is already on its knees is going to help anyone??

  6. Lewis White says:

    I just found this website set up by Valo for Croydon , which informs that 100 shelters will be provided–I assume, initially, under a 10 year contract

    https://valosmartcity.co.uk/2021/07/22/welcome-to-smart-croydon/

    Nice looking shelter, apparently designed by top UK architects Grimshaw….. they who designed the iconic Waterloo station (now former) Eurostar terminus building. Letr’s hope that they have experience on bus shelter vandalism and how to avoid it.

    It seems that the shelters feature electronic panels for advertising, plus a local map (looks electronic), and arrival countdown display. Plus free wifi. So you can make a call for free. Amazin’ !

    Will local air quality be displayed?. And I mean, very local, not from a monitor placed on top of the breezy Shirley Hills. For example, showing the direction of the pollution plume from Beddington Incnierator, with a map and a useful “You are here” symbol.

    I would be interested about the energy consumption needed to run all these dispalys, and whether the touch screens will work and be clear to see in sunlight and darkness –and will last.

    My worries remain vandalism — paint grafitti which would obliterate the displays–and smashing of the glass, unless it is polycarbonate, and the costs to the council of replacement.

    No doubt the Council would not release such commercially sensitive information, but I would hope that they would publish a service level agreement showing frequency of cleaning and the all-important response time to damage, display failures etc. Financial penalties should be attached for downtime.

    I really hope that those officers in the council framing the contract specification have checks and safeguards on all such matters. Or have the ones with experience been made redundant ?

    It would be interesting to see a yearly projection for the actual income to the council for each and every year. Nett income , after deductions for repairs and servicing and cleaning etc . A clever company will seek to minimise risks to itself, and put as much as possible on the council .

    Has the Scrutiny Committee seen the figures? Has the Cabinet , and has the top officer team?

    Of course, the problem is that this contract seems not to have happened after an open tender process– perhaps as Brexit has allowed the rules to be torn up.

    So were there other tenders invited ???

  7. Lancaster says:

    Electronic Bus Shelters:

    Light pollution, junk advertising, street clutter, more carbon released… It is going to end up looking like a scene from Blade Runner or Total Recall; simply ghastly.

    Whats wrong with an old fashioned timber shelter ?

  8. Dave Russell says:

    Can’t say I blame Decaux for removing their property when faced with the incompetent Croydon clowns. They must be running out of things to get wrong.

  9. Ian Kierans says:

    “challenging contractual arrangements”. O.K lets take this one down to the bones.
    Croydon Council began a process to retain or replace provider.
    Croydon Council are aware of the contract you currently had with JCDecaux.
    Croydon Council are aware of the requirements you set for for the next contract.
    Croydon Council are aware of what will occur if you retain your current provider.
    Croydon Council are aware of what will occur if you change supplier.
    Croydon Council are aware of the gearing required to implement new and replace.
    Croydon Council are aware of the capability of the Companies in question.

    Did some bright spark think they could blag a large provider?
    And why is one surprised they called your bluff? Sometimes challenging equates to being unreasonable or expecting the unreasonable or just ignoring those not on message. Something this Council has tonnes of experience in.

    In the words of Ed Sheeren you need me but I don’t need you is probably what JCDecaux thought.
    And they were right. but as usual the residents and visitors suffer from this Councils behaviors and actions.
    So who in Croydon Council felt this was ok to go ahead with when we have a cash flow crisis?
    I am 100% sure this was not Mr Ennis – I am sure he could have told you in seconds the risks adherent in that strategy.

    No seriously Mr Ali this Council have a history of poor risk management and bad decision making, this in the scheme of things is minor to Brick by Brick.

    No matter what the new company comes in with or when. This fiasco of the Council has subjected residents, many elderly and vulnerable, during a cold winter and in a pandemic to exposure to the elements.

    I would not brag about
    “Our partnership with innovators Valo will be our latest step towards Croydon becoming not only a digital council but the first truly connected smart borough which uses technology to enhance and transform the lives of our residents for the better.

    This Borough has created a digital divide. Those on the wrong side of that divide you know the ones that all Councillors represents like at Regina Court – have had their lives transformed so much that it barely counts as an existence digitally for them. But most importantly this digital exclusion has created a void where their voices are not heard their bodies not seen and they definitely cannot hear the Councils digital missives and self serving propaganda. Nor is their rubbish collected and they are unable to complain or even report this. But hey Digital does wonders for the stats when complaints are unable to be filed!

    What they can see, hear and feel is the wind and the rain and the snow. What they can hear is the violence on the street and the gangs. What they can’t see is an effective enforcement or prevention presence.

  10. Ian Kierans says:

    So what exactly prevented the Council from arranging temporary shelters via its new provider or other temporary provider?

  11. Ex-Croydonian says:

    Just one question, who will be paying for the replacement screens when they get broken through vandalism every weekend? Have an inkling that won’t be Valo, pretty sure all revenue and more will be lost to cover the replacement of these so much so that they will just get replaced with Perspex screens eventually.

    • Dave West says:

      Who will be paying for vandalism? Well no one has seen the contract, which will of course be deemed “commercially sensitive”, but from experience (I used to work for a company that the MoJ had outsourced prison maintenance to) Velo should have costed this into the price they quoted to Croydon. If not, any profits they hoped to make will disappear out of the window.

      If it’s down to Croydon to pick up the cost, then there ought to be a requirement for Velo to provide shelters that are as vandal-proof as possible, which means that they will inevitably cost more. Given that it sounds like Decaux walked away because Croydon wanted to screw them on costs/ad revenue, I suspect that it’s a tight deal that Velo only agreed to get a foot in the market and they will need to cuts costs in order to make any money so doesn’t sound hopeful.

      At least that’s the sort of logic that works when you’re dealing with a client and a supplier who understand what they’re signing up to. In this case, we’ve got Croydon Council who have screwed up pretty much every deal they’ve done in recent years and a supplier with no experience of delivering anything other than pretty pictures. I doubt that they’ve even thought about it!

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