Company behind ‘smart’ bus shelters has CCJs for unpaid bills

Ominous: the council-issued CGI of a new ‘smart’ bus shelter, positioned outside the Fairfield Halls

CROYDON IN CRISIS: A former government minister under Tony Blair helped to broker the deal with an unproven tech company promising the council £6.8m in advertising income from ‘smart’ bus shelters – but that is all in jeopardy, with the company having court judgements for tens of thousands of pounds of unpaid bills.

The tech company which the council announced in 2021 had signed up for a 10-year contract to supply “smart” bus shelters around the borough could soon be facing a winding-up order.

Not a single “smart” bus shelter has yet been delivered or installed.

Valo Smart City UK Ltd was only registered as a company in this country in August 2020, but within a few months they had sealed the deal with Croydon to supply 185 bus shelters fitted with a host of hi-tech monitoring devices, as well as delivering on-street free wi-fi, and promising that they would generate £6.8million in income for the cash-strapped council from road-side ads over the course of the contract.

The deal between Croydon and Valo Smart City was one of the first commercial agreements for the council under its then new chief executive, Katherine Kerswell.

But 18 months after the conventional JC Decaux shelters that had served the purpose for Croydon bus passengers for many years had all been dismantled and removed, not a single “smart” shelter has yet been installed.

Passengers facing a second winter forced to wait for their bus in the rain, wind and snow have been told by the council the delay in delivery is down to interrupted supply lines due to the war in Ukraine, even though that didn’t start until nearly six months after the first new shelters were supposed to have been installed.

Earlier this month, Inside Croydon reported how Valo Smart City UK Ltd was late in filing its first year’s annual accounts – hardly something that might inspire confidence in the management of the young business, and also something which risks having the company struck off by officials at Companies House.

No answers: Valo Smart City’s Isaac Sutton

Now we have learned that the office suite rented by Valo Smart City on Lansdowne Road in Croydon has had a visit from bailiffs, who reportedly found the place “deserted and in a poor state of repair”.

Further investigations have discovered two separate County Court Judgements against Valo Smart City, both issued in 2022, amounting to £31,800. The judgements were issued in January and July this year, and are believed to be for unpaid invoices. Neither CCJ has been “satisfied”; that is, paid.

A Katharine Street source said today, “There was always some scepticism surrounding how Valo Smart City ever got a 10-year contract with the council when they have no track record in supplying bus shelters, and no track record in selling road-side advertising.

“Now, if they are getting hit with CCJs for 30 grand in unpaid bills, what chance is there of them ever generating enough revenue from the smart bus shelters to pay the council £600,000 a year in ad revenues? It’s absurd. It all looked too good to be true from the start.

“Kerswell and senior council officials need to explain what due diligence was conducted over Valo Smart City and the man behind it, Isaac Sutton.”

Abandoned and inactive: Valo’s US social media accounts have been untouched since 2018, and no one there is answering the phones

Valo Smart City has a parent company, with an address on Lexington Avenue in New York City. But the company’s Twitter account appears to have been dormant since 2018, and no one there was answering their phones today.

Inside Croydon has confirmed that the deal between the council, then under Labour control, and Valo Smart City was brokered by a firm whose directors include Phil Woolas, the controversial former government minister under Tony Blair.

In November 2010, Woolas was found to have breached the Representation of the People Act in the course of that year’s general election by making false statements about a rival candidate. As a result, his 103-vote victory in his Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency was declared void, he lost his seat in the House of Commons and he was barred from standing again at the subsequent by-election. He was also suspended from the Labour Party until January 2011.

Broker: former MP Phil Woolas

Today, Woolas is a partner at UK Partnerships, or UKPL. The company says on its website, “We bridge the gap between young, dynamic companies from around the world and governmental organisations in the UK. This allows the British public to benefit from high-calibre technology, and helps innovative tech companies work with the UK public sector.”

Thing is, UK Partnerships don’t appear to be helping very many “innovative tech companies” to work with the public sector in this country. In fact, the last news item on UK Partnerships’ website is from November 2021, and that tells of the bus shelter deal between Valo Smart City and Croydon Council.

Under a headline “Bringing smart city technology to Croydon”, the company’s website boasts, “Transforming the outdoor advertising sector, UKPL, who wrote and won the tender in Croydon on behalf of Valo Smart City, Croydon’s innovative scheme introduces digital advertising to replace paper posters and provides upwards of £6million of revenues to the hard-pressed council.”

As brokers of the deal, it was perhaps UK Partnerships’ task to conduct due diligence on Valo Smart City to ensure that the company had the finances and expertise to deliver on the promises included in the Croydon contract.

They don’t appear to have done much checking. UK Partnerships’ press release describes “Ike” Sutton as “a global leader of the smart city revolution”. Apparently seriously.

They quote Sutton as saying, “From a standing start in early 2020 and despite the lockdown, UKPL and Valo have worked together to transform the UK smart city sector. We are very proud of our technology which will benefit the public of Croydon and hopefully be adopted across the UK.” Oh yeah!

‘Smart’ deal: Katherine Kerswell was council CEO when the bus shelter contract was agreed

But today, no one at UK Partnerships responded to Inside Croydon’s request to speak to Phil Woolas to handle our enquiries about the state of business at Valo Smart City UK Ltd.

No one was answering the emails or phones in Valo’s offices in Croydon, or in New York.

Croydon Council’s propaganda department was offered the opportunity to provide this website with a statement on the situation with the borough’s vanishing bus shelters. They failed to do so.

And Katherine Kerswell, the council’s £192,474 per year chief executive, had no answers when we asked what due diligence she had done to check that Valo Smart City UK could actually deliver on the promises made when the council decided to scrap its long-standing bus shelter contract, remove dozens of perfectly adequate bus shelters, and hand over the business to a company only registered in August 2020.

Read more: Council’s £6.8m bus shelter deal with 9-month-old tech firm
Read more: Bus passengers face a wet winter of discontent with no shelters
Read more: Chief digital officer quits council after splashing the cash

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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8 Responses to Company behind ‘smart’ bus shelters has CCJs for unpaid bills

  1. Lewis White says:

    The clever language gives it all away.
    “Bringing smart city technology to Croydon”. Sounds a bit like a computer game.

    Relentlessly up-beat. Key word indicators of the style used to include “vibrant” and “passion”. Maybe they still do. But the best wordsmiths have probably hammered out far more exciting new things since I last bothered to read such things. .

    Related linguistically to “Titleinflation” where the corridors of executive suites of every authority are lined with doors bearing nameplates with lengthy three-line titles. No-one nowadays seems to be a plain old Director of some service mundanely titled “Housing” or “Planning”. At the very least, there must be something wrong with anyone dubbed less than a “Strategic Director” of some job title seeming to include almost everything, or nothing.

    At long last, the people who wore the new clothes of Emperors and Empresses have been revealed to be naked, or have been reclothed in sackcloth.

    ‘Tis always thus, perhaps.

    Maybe we as human beings like to live dangerously to break the boredom, place trust in the untried and untrustworthy, and let ourselves really believe the bright night-time visions being dangled like coloured lamps in the trees along the sparkling waters of the stream that reflects their light through the darkness in such an appealing way. Then, in the greyness of morning, realise that the lamps are bare bulbs hanging from a frayed cable, festooned from dead tree to dead tree, and the crystal stream is a dried-up muddy creek with a few remnant pools of dirty water filled with discarded drink cans and plastic bags, and bloated dead fish, with the claw marks of rats carved into the clay of the banks.

  2. Chris Flynn says:

    This is starting to make Grayling’s ferry scheme look like a good deal.

  3. derekthrower says:

    Not really Grayling lost £50 million on having to cancel his ferry contracts amongst the billions he lost for the country across all the Departments he mismanaged. The council is small beer in comparison and doesn’t appear to have lost anything, but more credibility and potential income from yet another half baked pitch it has swallowed.
    Amongst many people the name Phil Woolas would have set bells ringing not just for his election conviction, but performance as a politician. Who cannot forget his embarrassing act with Joanna Lumley over Gurkha rights. Lets hope the Council did not put money up front with this bunch of grifters since it simply looks like this is yet another one they are going to have to put down to experience all over again.

  4. Lancaster says:

    The challenge the council has is that its senior managements skills set and their backgrounds are public sector. No experience or knowledge of business; to easily mesmerized and easily fooled by meaningless language, as Lewis describes above.

    Sadly for residents this will be another case of lost revenue, diminished environment, and wasted opportunities.

    Perhaps negotiating properly and harder with JC Decaux would have delivered a beneficial outcome. But that would have needed staff with business acumen.

  5. Karen Rankin says:

    Clear Channel would love to help the Council and have been in touch to see how we can help ever since the contract was awarded to Valo. We can supply the shelters and all the tech they require but the Council decided to go with an unproven company in the UK. We continue to stand ready to assist, if anyone from the Council could get in touch please.

  6. Lewis White says:

    I just looked up “UK Bus stop manufacturers” on a search engine.

    There are dozens …scores… maybe a hundred making bus shelters from a variety of materials including, for the Home Counties market, timber ones with wooden shingled pitched roofs, that would fit in with Green belt villages and be appreciated by the rural less well-off who don’t own a Range Rover Discovery, while they are waiting for the once-daily bus to town.

    I even saw an article in a magazine recently about a roll-out of a large number of green-roofed shelters in Surrey.

    Plus there are many more making modern glass and brush finish alloy ones, suitable for towns and cities — and many with poster display cases and electronic illuminated advertising panels. Are these energy guzzlers and contributors to global warming ?

    So there is ample choice out there already in designs.

    With regard to firms who provide shelters to councils on the basis of advertising paying the council money, plus free bus shelters and free maintenance, these are much, much fewer, but still there must be a handful at least.

    OK, can any of them offer pollution monitors–although, who on earth is going to monitor the monitors? What with no staff left at Croydon council.

    I wonder what the Croydon procurement rules –or maybe “guidelines” say about such deals. Is a specification sent out in open tenders, after advertising in an appropriate journal ?. Are tenders invited from a select few? Is there any tendering ? Are “offers” submitted ? Who compares the offers.

    Or is it sewn up with decisions made on tenuous grounds by charismatic senior managers, and little or no scrutiny as to the risks ?

    Sad that this has all fizzled out, as it is a huge waste of tme, and the public will be getting drenched and frozen as a result of this ineptitude.

    It would have been a given that a replacement programme would have been put in place over the Summer (when it normally rains less and is a bit warmer) . Or was it ?

    Quite how a situation should be allowed to arise whereby existing shelters are removed before the new ones were ready, beggars belief.

    As was going with an unproven US firm ???????

    So sexy, those Stateside bus shelters, from the land of the free, where local public bus transport is virtually non-existent outside of the big cities.

  7. Ian Kierans says:

    Bailiffs found the place empty.

    Could Opama and the Digital Team please explain to whom they are working closely with?

    And how?

    Have they perhaps just been in contact with them digitally or have they employed a really good Medium to assist in contacting the Ghosts of Very Smart Valo?

    On a more serious note – do we not have a public fiscal investigator who looks into this shit?

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Silly me of course we do. It is the National Audit office. They do give a wonderful booklet to people who wish to raise concerns.

      So perhaps missive explaining what has occurred and asking them if this would perhaps be in their remit albeit a Procurement fiasco it has actually lost revenue and will cost more to rectify. In addition the risks to the Borough of them failing being as they are to perhaps look at the actual contract and verify this was within the process and had due diligence.
      Might be a point to also ask The CEO of Croydon Council to publish the time for inspection of financial records as I doubt this will be the only issue coming to light.
      Would our 70 erstwhile Councillors like to follow this up – quite happy to run through the details and assist any of them that would like to.

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