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Deputy Tower Hamlets mayor in 'foster care trafficking' scandal tells why she's quitting

PUBLISHED: 15:43 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 20:27 09 August 2017

Rachael Saunders stepping down as Tower Hamlets Deputy Mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

Rachael Saunders stepping down as Tower Hamlets Deputy Mayor. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

The deputy mayor who ran Tower Hamlets children’s services in London’s deprived East End—which came under fire for not knowing if fostered youngsters were being “abandoned or trafficked”—has spoken out today after handing in her notice to the mayor.

Cllr Saunders facing deputation of angry mums at Tower Hamlets cabinet's February 2017 budget meeting over threats to nursery places. Picture: Mike BrookeCllr Saunders facing deputation of angry mums at Tower Hamlets cabinet's February 2017 budget meeting over threats to nursery places. Picture: Mike Brooke

Rachael Saunders steps down at the end of the month after a controversial two-year stint running the council children’s service which was slammed by Ofsted in April for lack of intervention in childcare cases and lacking information about the plight of fostered youngsters.

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

“It’s been a tough period with deep-rooted problems,” cllr Saunders tells the paper today.

“I share the responsibility, but we’re starting to sort them out. It’s a huge relief that it’s being dealt with by an Ofsted action plan.

Mayor John Biggs accepts his deputy Racheal Saunders' resignation in private Town Hall meeting. Picture: Mike BrookeMayor John Biggs accepts his deputy Racheal Saunders' resignation in private Town Hall meeting. Picture: Mike Brooke

“We needed to sort the data for proper information and the social practice.”

Too many 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 service she was responsible for was also criticised for bad leadership.

“That was sad,” Cllr Saunders admits. “But we didn’t have clear understanding what the Lead councillor’s role was.”

Her time heading the children’s service has been tough, having to brave it out over threats to close nurseries in an area of high deprivation and facing the wroth of a deputation of angry mums at the council cabinet’s budget meeting in February.

A 'selfie' momento of her time in office... Cllr Saunders at Women's leadership conference in April 2017. Picture: LBTHA 'selfie' momento of her time in office... Cllr Saunders at Women's leadership conference in April 2017. Picture: LBTH

She exposed corruption and malpractice in the youth service soon after taking up her role, addressing a council meeting in May last year, revealing mis-use of corporate credit cards going back to 2013 in the discredited Rahman era. It led to youth service resignations as the new Labour council administration began a clean-up.

The Ofsted drubbing in April, however, led to Mayor John Biggs’ cabinet reshuffle and Cllr Saunders being switched to run Adult Social Services.

But Rachael quits the council altogether at next May’s elections, after nine years representing Mile End.

The 37-year-old Labour Party activist from Whitechapel, married to Tower Hamlets branch chairman Chris Weavers, told the mayor last night at a private meeting that her new day job in September makes her cabinet role difficult.

She has been appointed education director at the ‘Business in the Community’ organisation in Old Street, responsible for a nationwide programme bringing schools together with commerce and the government.

So Rachael won’t be far from working for children’s broader education and wellbeing.

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