Council boss ignores questions over failing bus shelter firm

CROYDON IN CRISIS: The start-up firm that promised to pay Croydon £6.8m in a 10-year deal for supplying all-singing, all-dancing ‘smart’ bus shelters has been warned it could be struck off the Companies House register from tomorrow. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES

Katherine Kerswell, the £192,474 per year chief exec of Croydon’s cash-strapped council, has failed to respond to urgent questions about the troubled state of Valo Smart City UK Ltd, the start-up company that the authority went into partnership with in what was supposed to be a money-spinning deal to instal “smart” bus shelters across the borough.

Valo Smart City UK Ltd’s directors have been placed on notice by Companies House officials that the firm could be struck off the register and dissolved within two months “unless cause is shown to the contrary”.

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

The First Gazette notice of the company’s dissolution was posted on the Companies House website before the weekend, and comes into effect tomorrow, October 18.

The action has been taken because Valo Smart City, which was only registered as a company in August 2020, has failed to submit any company accounts.

Long wait: Croydon’s bus passengers have gone 18 months without the promised replacement bus shelters

It is possible that the company could file its accounts and pay off its unpaid bills, but it would need to act far more rapidly than it has managed so far in its brief and undistinguished existence.

If the company is dissolved, it would leave Croydon without its much-feted corporate partner and the promised £6.8million payments over the course of a 10-year deal.

It would also leave Croydon’s bus passengers without their bus shelters, smart or otherwise.

It was just a few weeks ago that a senior executive in the council’s “digital team” responded to questions from a concerned resident that “The project has been progressing well.”

But as Inside Croydon reported last month, Valo’s rented office suite on Lansdowne Road, the company’s registered address, has been long deserted. And the company has had two separate County Court Judgements issued against it this year for unpaid bills amounting to £31,800.

Formal notice: Croydon Council’s procurement process to find new providers of bus shelters began before Valo Smart City UK Ltd even existed as a company

It is not only Valo’s Croydon offices that seem deserted. Now, it’s their pals who are deserting them, too.

A British-based company, fronted by a former Blairite minister, has in the past fortnight sought to distance itself from Valo.

UK Partnerships, whose directors include Phil Woolas, the former Labour MP, issued a very up-themselves press release in November last year, boldly claiming, “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.”

But after Inside Croydon’s reports were published last month, UKPL posted a “nuffink to do with us, guv” statement on their website, distancing themselves altogether from any involvement with Valo Smart City. Today, the UK Partnerships website itself was not accessible. “The site is experiencing technical difficulties,” was the sorry message on display.

Unaccountable: Croydon’s £192,000 chief executive, Katherine Kerswell

The issue of what Croydon does about its bus shelters remains unresolved, however, 18 months since JC Decaux dug up their shelters from the borough’s streets after their long-standing agreement with the council had been cancelled because Kerswell and her staff thought they could get a better deal – with a company that didn’t even exist when they began the tender process…

Kerswell, meanwhile, has ignored an approach from Inside Croydon to comment on the latest bungled commercial deal at Fisher’s Folly.

We emailed the chief executive over the weekend with the following questions:

  • Was it untrue of the council official to state last month that the bus shelter project “has been progressing well”?

Katherine Kerswell has failed to answer.

  • Please give a date when the promised new bus shelters will be installed.

Katherine Kerswell has failed to answer.

  • Are you satisfied that proper due diligence was conducted by the council before entering into a contract with Valo Smart City UK Ltd?

Katherine Kerswell has failed to answer.

  • How much revenue has Croydon Council lost since April 2021 from having not renewed its agreement with the previous suppliers of bus shelters?

We reckon it could now be perhaps hundreds of thousands, but Katherine Kerswell has failed to answer…

Inside Croydon’s loyal reader will need no reminding that this is the same Katherine Kerswell who commissioned the Penn Report into the running of the “dysfunctional” council (Terms of reference, para 11: “The report will be presented to the Council”) and who has, nearly two years later, refused to publish it.

Read more: #PennReport wanted police probe into possible misconduct
Read more: #PennReport: Staff speak out about ‘scandalous’ bullying
Read more: #PennReport: Cover-ups and denial over Brick by Brick failure

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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7 Responses to Council boss ignores questions over failing bus shelter firm

  1. If Croydon Council cannot be trusted to organise some bus shelters surely it is time for the Government to take over – and abolish it. On second thoughts the current Government seem about as useless as Croydon Council.

  2. Ian Kierans says:

    Functionalism is an endangered premise at Fishers Folly. It is difficult to find any process that is designed to function simply and effectively. It is usually through the good graces of employee’s further down the management line that actions to rectify failures take place. They are the ones also who are embarrassed at the fiasco’s foisted on them by the senior team and end up apologising for the failures and the lack of internal communications and blinkered silo mentality of departmental process foisted on them with scarce resource to meet need let alone demand. Many of the issues in the Penn report appear to be alive kicking and in rampant growth in the attitude of this Executive team towards residents and their mandatory needs. But this team have taken non communication and disrespect for taxpaying residents to new levels.
    This is giving the very distinct appearance that the Advisors are the ones with the controlling minds and not this Executive, Councillors or puppet part time Mayor.

  3. Lewis White says:

    The Croydon bus shelters (or lack of them) procurement is a litany of failure.
    How much has this all cost, in Croydon council staff time ?

    Over how many years?

    And– how much in lost advertising revenue?.

    And who paid for reinstating the tarmac after JC Decaux took their shelters back?

    And the making safe of the electric services to the shelters that had lighting or electronic ads, or the dot-matrix arrivals displays?

    And the standing charges for the electric supplies in the year since they were removed ?

    One can’t put a financial value on inconvenience to the public, unless perhaps, people got and will get ill as a result of getting cold and wet at the bus stop (sorry, at the place where a bus stop used to be).

    Plus, how much is it going to cost the Council to find a new supplier…… and will the Council be charged for each actual bus stop structure, or part of it, or the installation?

    And when will the new shelters go in?

    Perhaps a local writer could pen a play–a bit like “Waiting for Godot” but with less action, called “2 years without a shelter”– life in Covid and Post Covid Croydon”.

    Are the senior people responsible for deciding to go with this untried US supplier going to be responsible for the new procurement ?

    It would be ironic if JC Decaux bid for and got the new contract.
    They would certainly know where the shelters used to be.

    They could also probably offer a lot of nice, “only-one-owner” , “preloved” shelters, for quick installation.

  4. So if (or more likely when) Valo Smart City Ltd finally sinks, Croydon council will do what? What’s the back-up plan? Who’s in charge of this at the Town Hall?

    What’s needed are attractive, functional shelters with digital screens, providing contextualised, location-based and real-time messaging, plus a mix of local information and advertising.

    Ideally they’d be designed by someone like the renowned architect Norman Foster, be energy efficient and powered by green electricity, and made from corrosion-resistant and recyclable materials.

    Where might we get them from? The previous contractors, JC Decaux, that’s who.

    Last year they won a 10-year contract to install shelters matching the description above in the beautiful city of Antwerp.

    They’re going to love it when Croydon council comes crawling back.

  5. Sarah Bird says:

    The sheer level of ineptitude of Croydon Council beggars belief . . The evidence is very clear , and endorsed in all the independent reports. It is time, for a radical overhaul of the council staff .

  6. Lancaster says:

    Where is the leadership at Fisher’s Folly and at The Town Hall ? The absence at both is evident. If they can’t install bus shelters, what hope do the have at anything challenging?

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