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Deputy Mayor Saunders quits after Ofsted condemns Tower Hamlets childcare over ‘trafficked’ youngsters

PUBLISHED: 10:34 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:43 09 August 2017

Rachael Saunders is quitting as Tower Hamlets Deputy Mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

Rachael Saunders is quitting as Tower Hamlets Deputy Mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The deputy mayor running Tower Hamlets children’s services in east London which came under fire for not knowing if fostered youngsters were being “abandoned or trafficked” is quitting.

Deputy Mayor Rachael Saunders, former head of Children's Services, addressing Tower Hamlets cabinet meeting. Picture: Mike BrookeDeputy Mayor Rachael Saunders, former head of Children's Services, addressing Tower Hamlets cabinet meeting. Picture: Mike Brooke

Rachael Saunders, whose Children’s Department was condemned by Ofsted in April, put in her resignation last night to Mayor John Biggs and steps down at the end of the month.

The Mile End ward councillor is also standing down from the council next May, she reveals on her Facebook page, saying “it is time to make space for others to come through” after nine years.

Too many fostered children remained in “situations of actual or potential harm” because of insufficient scrutiny by the council’s chief executive, the children’s services director and politicians, Ofsted inspectors found.

The council’s “lack of understanding” in private fostering arrangements failed to consider whether they had been trafficked or abandoned by their parents, the East London Advertiser reported at the time.

'Our children have been left in danger'... People's Alliance opposition leader Rabina Khan. Picture: Mike Brooke'Our children have been left in danger'... People's Alliance opposition leader Rabina Khan. Picture: Mike Brooke

Cllr Saunders was moved to Adult Services soon after the report in Mayor John Biggs’ cabinet reshuffle.

“She has finally accepted the inevitable,” Opposition People’s Alliance leader Rabina Khan told the paper today.

“It’s no surprise that her department was found to have left children at risk of harm when she failed to turn up to a single meeting of the Safeguarding Board.”

Ofsted criticised failings in leadership, while grading her department “inadequate”.

Happier times... Cllr Rachael Saunders with John Biggs winning the race for mayor in 2015. Picture: Mike BrookeHappier times... Cllr Rachael Saunders with John Biggs winning the race for mayor in 2015. Picture: Mike Brooke

Officials failed to intervene in childcare cases and were “clueless whether fostered children were at risk of harm or trafficking”, April’s council meeting heard.

The issue surfaced again last month when Cllr Khan, addressing the council, said: “Our children were in the headlines because they were being abandoned and the council didn’t know if they were being trafficked by carers. We have left our children in neglected and dangerous situations.”

Cllr Saunders’ move has added pressure to Mayor Biggs’ narrow-majority Labour administration, following the earlier resignation of Deputy Mayor Shiria Khartun after she was allegedly removed abruptly as the cabinet member for community affairs.

Cllr Khartun won’t be standing for relection next May, nor will another cabinet front-bencher Joshua Peck. This opens a gap in the Labour mayor’s team with the three councillors quitting the council at a time it faces opposition from the rump of former independent Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s banned administration for mal-administration, which put the council in ‘special measures’ in 2015 until earlier this year.

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