Probe into youth service ‘corruption’ by Tower Hamlets council

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs - Credit: Archant

Town Hall bosses are reorganising the youth service in London’s East End to root out “fraud and corruption” uncovered from barred Lutfur Rahman’s former administration.

Deputy Tower Hamlets Mayor Rachael Saunders

Deputy Tower Hamlets Mayor Rachael Saunders - Credit: Archant

The restructure follows an investigation by Tower Hamlets council which has uncovered “historic shortcomings in the way youth services are delivered”, the authority confirmed today.

The allegations were first made public at the council’s AGM last month by Deputy Mayor Rachael Saunders.

These came in the wake of a series of senior figures in the service going on “long term sick leave”, leading to gaps in what it can provide to the public. So a temporary set-up has been put in place before a permanent system can be re-established.

Mayor John Biggs and his deputy Cllr Saunders ordered a review which has uncovered the shortcomings.

Mayor Biggs addressing May's council AGM

Mayor Biggs addressing May's council AGM - Credit: Archant

“It would have been reckless not to act,” the Mayor said today. “We are being open and honest about shortcomings in the service and taking immediate steps to resolve them.

“We’ll finish the review in the summer and consult the public and listen to young people on the future of their youth service.”

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Cllr Saunders had been responding to attacks in the council chamber last month—by the Independent opposition group which previously ran the council under banned former mayor Rahman—that the current Labour administration was “running down” the youth service.

But the reason fewer youth centres are now open was because of the “serious investigations into the serious allegations”, she revealed, listing the alleged corruption and malpractices to shocked council members.

Tower Hamlets Council

Tower Hamlets Council - Credit: Archant

The allegations emerged a year after Rahman was barred from office for five years by the High Court.

Members of the youth service used 17 corporate payment cards issued by the council to “rack up a combined bill of £395,000 in 14 months”, according to sources.

But there were also claims that youth service figures were turning up in a ‘rapid response’ council-owned vehicle to incidents such as street fights, including a stabbing, and accused of attempting to intervene—acting “as quasi security force” and refusing information to police.

There are 75 investigations currently underway into the youth service, which has faced criticism since ex-mayor Rahman withdrew funding in 2012 from organisations that were running it, such as Poplar Harca housing association and George Green’s School on the Isle of Dogs.

The whole show was taken under direct Town Hall control—that’s when allegations of malpractice and corruption began to emerge, which are now being exposed in the investigation by the new administration.

The interim measures to run the service are keeping just eight centres open, but involve “no cuts to staffing or funding”, the authority assures.