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A review into the Tower Hamlets Youth Service has investigated allegations of irregularity and fraud within the Youth Service between 2013 and 2015, during the previous administration.

The review found little evidence that services were being properly monitored, and that the governance of Youth Services was well below the expected standard.

The investigation discovered that payments had been made to non-existent organisations to provide youth services, and that 21 staff members had business interests that were not disclosed.

It was revealed that 14 purchase cards, provided by the Council, were used by the Youth Service in 2014/15 with a total spend of £149,000 – and that there was no meaningful monitoring of the use of these cards. In one example, one card holder had spent £91,000 over a two year period.

Mayor Biggs swiftly took steps to prevent such failings happening again, including making important governance changes, ordering staff to be retrained and ensuring there is additional scrutiny of payments for services and supplies.

Key findings:

  • Duplicate or excessive claims were made for hours worked
  • Recruitment was not carried out properly, with controls around DBS checks not being applied
  • 21 of the 260 staff members had business interests that were not disclosed to the Council
  • £149,000 spent on Council purchase cards during 2014/15. One holder spent £91,000 over a two year period and exceeded the monthly limit on 14 occasions.
  • Some individuals were delivering youth service provision without formally being on the Council’s payroll, and without DBS checks being undertaken.
  • The Department of Work & Pensions have been alerted to examples of individuals being paid significant payments on zero hour or ’14 hours and under’ where housing benefit could also have been claimed.
  • 10 youth clubs had between 0-5 participants; 9 clubs had between 6 and 10 participants. In 11 cases, the number of young people could not be verified.

Commenting on the Youth Service audit report, Mayor John Biggs said:

“This report shows just how out of control some elements of the youth service had become on the previous administration’s watch.

“When I became Mayor I discovered a youth service in chaos as a result of poor management and the actions of a small number of individuals. The majority of our youth workers are honest, hard-working and dedicated to providing an excellent service but they were let down by a small number of their colleagues acting inappropriately for their own benefit. I am pleased we can now bring these matters into the open. For a range of legal reasons they have been shrouded too long.

“Unlike the previous mayor I will not shirk my responsibilities, where there is evidence of wrongdoing I will act. As this audit report reveals, it wasn’t just serious financial problems, our young people were being let down with many youth projects totally abandoned by the young people they were there to serve.

“We now have an interim model in place for the youth service offering more and better quality activities for young people than previously. There have been no cuts to the service and we still have the second highest youth service budget in London, it’s just being spent properly now.

“Over the coming months we will be working closely with young people to design a new model which provides an even better service with a wide range of activities on offer and to draw a line under this sad saga.”

Review of Tower Hamlets Youth Service Details Serious Failings

A review into the Tower Hamlets Youth Service has investigated allegations of irregularity and fraud within the Youth Service between 2013 and 2015, during the previous administration. The review found little...

Mother tongue language classes in Tower Hamlets will be protected Mayor John Biggs has announced after malicious and untrue rumours from opposition members left workers and supporters of the service falsely told that he was planning to close it down. The Mayor promised major improvements to the management of the council’s community language service after a damning report into management failings was presented to the Council’s Audit Committee on Tuesday.

The Mayor described community language teaching as an “important part of life in our vibrant multi-lingual community” but said the management failings which had been allowed to foster under the previous administration would be dealt with. Changes to be introduced in coming months will improve the quality of the supervision and delivery of the community language service, but the service, driven by passionate community members and delivered in 8 languages, will continue with no reduction to its current budget.

The announcement came after an auditor report rated the community language service as offering ‘Nil assurance’ the lowest possible rating, which no other report has received in the past year. The concerns set out in the report included poor monitoring of value for taxpayer money, no evidence recorded of students attending and no reports on performance and failures to put child protection policies in place at some providers. The report also found payments being signed off without proper procedures, significant budget overspends and tutors with criminal record checks which had expired.

The council’s community language service is provided through 50 projects who provide tuition for Bengali, Arabic, Somali, Cantonese, Mandarin, Lithuanian, Vietnamese and Urdu.

Speaking after Wednesday’s Council meeting where he made the pledge, Mayor John Biggs said:

“The teaching of community languages to young people is greatly valued by many in Tower Hamlets as an important part of life in our vibrant multi-lingual community. 

“The service we inherited from the previous administration had serious problems in its management. That was making life harder for tutors and letting down pupils and parents.

“I am promising to protect the £400,000 budget as I am committed to protecting the community language service. I will also work to bring its management back up to standard. I fully support the enthusiasm of the communities in Tower Hamlets for community languages. It would be wrong to punish the hundreds of young people who use the service for what is essentially a failure of bad management. There will however need to be changes to improve the service with tighter controls put in place.

“I want to safeguard the future of the community language service – making it a truly community run enterprise. In the long term, with further government cuts to come, that may mean looking at other ways to raise funding. I am clear that Town Hall funding for the service will remain protected in the budget.

“It is important to note the council also invests heavily to help people who need it to learn English and we are exploring options to improve this service in the coming year, in particular its role helping to get more local people into jobs, and in helping parents help their families succeed in London."

Mayor pledges to protect and improve Community Language Service

Mother tongue language classes in Tower Hamlets will be protected Mayor John Biggs has announced after malicious and untrue rumours from opposition members left workers and supporters of the service...

Mayor John Biggs is backing a hard-hitting campaign from Cancer Research UK aimed at tackling childhood obesity.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and Councillor Amy Whitelock Gibbs gave their support after the charity transformed a store front on Bethnal Green Road into an XL school uniform ‘shop’ window on Wednesday 31st August to show the new norm of larger school uniforms across the UK.

Almost 42 per cent of children in Tower Hamlets are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.* Being overweight or obese is the single biggest cause of preventable cancer in the UK after smoking and contributes to 18,100 cases of the disease every year. It is linked to 10 types of cancer including bowel, breast, and pancreatic.

The Conservative Government promised a robust strategy to tackle the crisis of childhood obesity. Instead, the Government published a weak plan without any commitments to protect children from junk food marketing or vital mandatory targets to reduce the amount of fat, sugar and salt in food.

The news comes as Tower Hamlets Health & Wellbeing Board will shortly be consulting on a new Health & Wellbeing Strategy, including a priority on tackling childhood obesity. The Council also already has a range of programmes and initiatives in place to support all residents in making healthier lifestyle choices.

Councillor Amy Whitelock Gibbs, Cabinet Member for Health & Adult Services, said: “The evidence is clear – we need to act now to prevent a generation of youngsters in Tower Hamlets facing a future of ill health, shortened lives, and an overstretched NHS.

“We know it can be really tough for families, but the fact is that obese children are around five times more likely to grow into obese adults, and obese adults are more likely to develop cancer and other diseases. Child obesity is a complex issue and there are lots of factors working against families when it comes to helping children make healthy choices – including being bombarded with junk food advertising and snacks targeted at kids which have huge hidden amounts of fat, sugar and salt.

“Not enough is being done nationally by the Government, so we plan to make reducing childhood obesity a key priority for our new Health and Wellbeing Strategy. By working with partners such as Cancer Research UK, we can take steps to meet that goal.”

Mayor John Biggs said: “Childhood obesity is a real concern in Tower Hamlets and we need to make it easier for residents, especially children, to make healthier choices. From encouraging children to do a mile’s exercise a day through the Daily Mile scheme, to  teaching them about healthy eating, we already have a number of initiatives to tackle childhood obesity.

“By teaching children about healthier choices and helping parents to encourage those choices, we can dramatically improve their future health and quality of life.”

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK’s director of prevention, said: “With so many overweight and obese children in Tower Hamlets, we are seeing a greater need for larger school uniforms.

“The Government’s childhood obesity plan is simply not up to tackling the issue, so we’re pleased to have the support of Tower Hamlets Council in raising awareness.

“It will take more than encouraging exercise and a sugar tax to tackle the obesity epidemic. The Government has already recognised the influence of junk food marketing on children’s health by banning junk food advertising during children’s programmes - it’s time to close the loop hole during family viewing time.

“The Government has missed a real opportunity to save lives. So now we need as many people as possible to email their MP and demand robust action to give our children the best possible chance of a healthy future.”

Visit cruk.org/ChildhoodObesityStrategy to take action.

Tower Hamlets Council Teams Up with Cancer Research UK to Tackle Childhood Obesity

Mayor John Biggs is backing a hard-hitting campaign from Cancer Research UK aimed at tackling childhood obesity. Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs and Councillor Amy Whitelock Gibbs gave their...

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