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.
- 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.”