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 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."

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