Jason Perry, the part-time Mayor of Croydon, has promised to take “legal recourse” over the lingering scandal of Croydon’s shelter-less bus stops.
The only problem with the dim Mayor’s vacuous undertaking is that there is very probably no one to take “legal recourse” against.
As Inside Croydon reported exclusively last week, Valo Smart City UK Ltd, the start-up company that is supposed to be providing more than 180 “smart” bus shelters around the borough, was served with a warning that it faced being struck off the Companies House register earlier this month.
Valo Smart City UK Ltd was only formed as a company in August 2020 – after Croydon had started its procurement process for a new bus shelter contract. Previously, Croydon had dealt with tried-and-trusted suppliers JC Decaux.
Decaux removed their shelters in the spring of last year. Valo’s replacements were originally meant to be in place by the autumn of 2021, as part of a 10-year deal under which they promised to pay the council £6.8million from advertising revenue.
It turns out that Valo, a company with no track record in delivering bus shelters and no track record in selling roadside advertising, has already attracted a couple of County Court Judgments for unpaid bills. Meanwhile, they’ve managed to install precisely zero bus shelters.
The move to have the company struck off by Companies House was suspended last Tuesday. The company has failed to file annual accounts for the trading year that ended in December 2021.
A Companies House notice dated October 19, 2022, states of Valo Smart City UK Ltd, “Action under Section 1000 of the Companies Act 2006 has been temporarily suspended as an objection to the striking off has been received by the Registrar.”
Why Croydon ever came to enter into negotiations with a company that can’t do its own paperwork and can’t pay its bills has never been satisfactorily explained by Katherine Kerswell, the council chief exec, or any of her executive staff in Fisher’s Folly.
Kerswell has refused to respond to Inside Croydon’s questions.
Any proper due diligence process by the council, prior to entering into a business agreement with Valo, would surely have turned up the trading records of Isaac Sutton, the American businessman and founder of the firm, and the man behind its US parent company.
Due diligence would have also revealed the absence of any proven ability of Sutton’s companies to deliver on their ambitious promises to Croydon.
The absence of bus shelters from Croydon’s streets was raised as a question at last week’s meeting of full council – the first to be held since July. What was the £81,000 per year Mayor doing to get the situation fixed was the question put to Perry.
“If necessary, we will go to legal recourse to get bus stops back on our streets,” Tory Mayor Perry, all puffed up with his own self-importance, blustered.
He didn’t explain what might be achieved by dragging through the courts what is, to all intents and purposes, a company that has never traded and which has few, if any assets.
Perry could make better use of his time, and the cash-strapped council’s stretched resources, by looking into disciplinary action against which executive working in Fisher’s Folly ever suggested that scrapping the Decaux deal and replacing them with Valo was the right thing to do.
Others who have had dealings with Valo have recently expressed their regrets, in an effort to distance themselves from the company.
UKPartnerships Ltd is the consultancy that brokered the deal for Valo. One of the directors of UKPartnerships is Phil Woolas, the former Labour MP.
In a statement posted on their website at the end of September, they advised that they had worked on a consultancy basis for New York-based Valo Smart City for two years. “Our contract with them ended in March 2022,” they said.
“We were initially very positive about their offer to the London Borough of Croydon and believed it to be an innovative and sustainable way for Croydon to generate income while providing significant benefits to the local community,” the statement on UKPartnerships’ website said.
“We have recently become aware of issues with regard to Valo Smart City’s relationship with its suppliers, and would like to confirm that we no longer work with them in any capacity.” Nuffink to do with us, guv.
Back in November 2021, UK Partnerships told anyone who would listen that it was they who “wrote and won the tender in Croydon on behalf of VALO Smart City”.
Intriguingly, in their latest statement, last month, this pivotal role was downgraded somewhat. “UK Partnerships advised Valo Smart City on the tendering and procurement process but did not introduce the opportunity to Valo nor did we introduce Valo to Croydon.”
Woolas, when the Croydon’s Valo deal had just been announced, boasted to councillors and Labour Party colleagues about the money-spinning agreement his organisation had helped to secure. It is also suggested that Woolas claimed that he had known Kerswell and her husband, Barry Quirk (then the chief exec at Kensington and Chelsea), since their student days.
According to Town Hall sources, there was never any declaration of this friendship made by Kerswell when the Valo Smart City UK Ltd deal was being approved.
Phil Woolas, like Kerswell, has failed to respond to Inside Croydon’s requests to comment.
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