A couple of simple facts.
The Home Office has designated Tower Hamlets as a Tier 1 borough, representing the highest perceived risks of extremism.
Councils have a statutory duty to “secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, sufficient provision of educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people…” (Source: Local Government Association)
The government entrusts local authority youth services with the implementation of its Prevent strategy to, you guessed it, prevent young people becoming radicalised.
As it seems that certain members of Tower Hamlets Youth Services cannot be trusted with a credit card and their senior managers are uninterested – or unwilling – to do their jobs properly then it is probably not the best organisation to combat extremism. Or even to look after cute kittens and bunny rabbits.
Quite how central government and the security services have allowed the Youth Service to continue to operate Prevent in the borough is beyond our comprehension. Unless we know more about the reality of LBTH Youth Service than they do?
Below we list a very basic high-level timeline of various Youth Service reorganisation and reviews. We understand that the Youth Service has one of the highest budgets of any similar service in London.
No independent monitoring
One of the key events is the distinct possibility (but almost impossible to prove) that in 2012, under Mayor Rahman, the Youth Service was moved from one council directorate to another to avoid any inspection by Ofsted of LBTH children’s services.
Far fetched? Maybe. Doesn’t mean it is true. And it seems that in 2020 there is no independent monitoring or inspection of any Local Authority youth services by any government body.
According to Ofsted while youth services might be considered as part of a children’s services inspection (particularly for targeted youth services that are specifically to protect young people) it would not produce a youth services inspection report in the same way as Ofsted would publish a school inspection report.
If a council commissions an external organisation to provide a youth service, say like a series of events for youngsters, then the council will have a contract in place that will be monitored to check how that service is delivered.
The problem with this approach is that if, by some strange set of circumstances, a council or its Youth Service commissions an external organisation and that organisation either does not exist, is run by friends and family of the person who allocated the contract and or is never assessed for its ability to prove it can deliver value for money then Prevent in Tower Hamlets is just an acronym and nothing more.
Bethnal Green Academy schoolgirls
The fate of the three Bethnal Green Academy schoolgirls who were radicalised and ran off to join ISIS in Syria illustrates what can go wrong.
Although these girls were radicalised towards the tail-end of the Lutfur Rahman administration in February 2015 (and there is nothing to link the Mayor with the girls disappearance or insinuation that there may be) the real puzzle comes afterwards during the Biggs administration.
Many people in Tower Hamlets have been working to solve one particular question – why was there no Serious Case Review by Tower Hamlets Council into the disappearance of these girls?
The answer is quite simple, as is the answer to why many of the events in the Poplar Papers took place and nobody was ever held to account.
But that is for another day. Let’s have a quick look at the history of the Tower Hamlets Youth Service.
Late February 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic looms over the UK. Within a week the outbreak will be declared a ‘level 4 incident’ by the government. The most serious crisis since the Second World War is unfolding.
What better time for Mayor Biggs to announce ‘a few changes to areas of responsibility for Cabinet Lead Members’ than this?
Specifically removing responsibility for Youth Services away from Cllr. Danny Hassell and giving it to Cllr. Asma Begum.
Cllr. Hassell is Cabinet Member for Children, Schools and Young People, Cllr. Asma Begum is Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Equalities whose sole claim to fame is that she is the wife of Cllr. Tarik ‘Where do you really work?’ Khan.
At the same Cabinet meeting Mayor Biggs approved the latest in a series of Youth Service reorganisations which arose from from the 2019/20 Youth Service Review. This reorganisation will, in turn, be subject to another review in 12 months time.
The most recent review was in 2017 when the council introduced a ‘new mixed-economy youth service model combining in-house and commissioned universal youth provision.’
We think this management-speak means the Youth Service would be run by a small core of council officers – who the Mayor can trust – who in turn manage external organisations.
There are historical reasons to consider the possibility that this Youth Service review and reorganisation has little to do with protecting young people in the borough and everything to do with playing the Shell Game. You might think you know under which shell the pea is but you don’t. Sleight of hand always wins.
Which shell is the Youth Service under today?
This particular issue has been of much interest to Moley for some years.
In June 2012, the entire Youth Service was moved from the Children, Schools and Families (CSF) Service into the Directorate of Communities, Localities, and Culture (CLC).
In July 2012 Ofsted undertook an inspection of Inspection of safeguarding and looked after children services
Then in April 2016 the Youth Service Integrated Youth Service was transferred back to the Children’s Directorate.
Why? Why move a group whose sole reason for existence is the wellbeing of children and teenagers from the council directorate which is responsible for children and teenagers?
It seems this was done to avoid external scrutiny of the various dodgy activities taking place in Youth Services at the time. There could be a perfectly sensible reason for this of course. Any suggestions?
Youth Service timeline
This is a brief list of the numerous reviews, reorganisations and investigations into Tower Hamlets Youth Service that we have been able to track down.
In 2003 a Met Police investigation into fraud in the council revealed a method of operation very similar to that found by Mark Edmunds in 2015/16.
Local gang members were recruited to work in the Rapid Response Team (RRT), a part of Youth Services tasked with performing outreach. As the years progressed several of these former gang members were promoted to manage the RRT.
The youth club part of the Youth and Connexions Service, as the Youth Service was then known, was contracted out after claims that the service was poor value for money. Some councillors and third-sector workers have disputed this claim.
Lutfur Rahman administration
2009 / 2010
While the Youth Service was located in the Children, Schools and Families (CSF) Service further malpractice was found.
On 25th May 2011 a whistleblower made allegations of corruption to Tower Hamlets Council via email (Poplar Papers page 127). No action was taken to investigate these claims at the time despite individual councillors and Youth Service officers being named.
Around the same time the LBTH Chief Executive Kevan Collins, who was the former Director of Children’s Services, left Tower Hamlets Council after only two years in post.
He was soon to be followed by the then Director of Children’s Services and then the service head responsible for the Youth Service. No further details of this have been investigated by the East End Enquirer due to lack of resources and there is no allegation of any wrongdoing by any of these people.
In June 2012, the entire Youth Service was moved from CSF into the Directorate of Communities, Localities, and Culture (CLC) which was headed up by Andy Bamber and the relevant Service Head also transferred. See http://democracy.towerhamlets.gov.uk/mgConvert2PDF.aspx?ID=3720&T=2
According to the timeline on Poplar Papers p222 another Youth Service restructure took place between April and Nov 2013. There was also an Internal Audit investigation in October. It is unclear if this was an investigation by Internal Audit or an investigation of Internal Audit.
A full and in depth review of the service was due to commence in early 2014. But an allegation of fraud within the Rapid Response Team (RRT) was made and the service review was paused pending the completion of an investigation into the allegation.
In June 2014 LBTH referred two allegations of fraud to the Met Police in relation to nine youth organisations on the borough. The allegations centred around the provision of approximately £300,000 of funding during the financial year 2013/4.
2015 Change of directly elected Mayor
Lutfur Rahman dismissed from office on 23rd April 2015, John Biggs elected Mayor 2nd June 2015.
01 October 2015 Claire Belgard appointed Interim Head of Service
In 2015/16 the stayed review of service provision was restarted. This was the work of Mark Edmunds detailed in the Poplar Papers.
01 January 2016 Ronke Martins-Taylor was employed as Youth Service Manager.
LBTH Reorganisation Youth Service Integrated Youth Service transferred back to the Children’s Directorate.
Labour councillor and Deputy Mayor Rachel Saunders takes the unprecedented step of reading an email stating that there were around 75 investigations currently underway into the activities of Youth Services under Rahman. At the time the team consisted of between 150 to 250 people.
You can see a video of Cllr. Saunders in action at the council AGM at the town hall on Wednesday 18 May 2016 below.
In May Mayor Biggs announces that “Following a review that has uncovered historic shortcomings in the way youth services in Tower Hamlets are delivered, the council is proceeding with the adoption of an interim delivery model, anticipating the development of a new, long term model for a future service.”
In June the Met Police fraud investigation into allegations against Youth Services personnel was concluded. There were no recommendations for prosecution.
Council introduces a mixed-economy youth service model after another review.
February – a meeting of the GLA Police and Crime Committee grills the Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service over the reasons for there being no prosecutions as a result of the latest inquiry.
February – Mayor Biggs re-launches the Youth Service.
November – another Youth Service review is revealed by Love Wapping.
Mark Edmunds launches claim for unfair dismissal against LBTH.
Poplar Papers published.
At a February Cabinet meeting the latest Youth Service reorganisation is approved. It is stated that this reorganisation will be subject to another review during the next 12 months.
Reading the online minutes of the February LBTH Cabinet or watching the video recording it is very difficult for the layperson to make sense of what is going on.
What seems to be happening is that a decision has been taken to adopt the latest Youth Service review, some mention of Poplar HARCA housing association is made, there seems to be some urgency to approving budgets for existing external suppliers of Youth Service resources for 12 months and there is talk of how this will all be reviewed again in the next 12 months.
This is totally confusing. But then maybe that is the point?
In October 2019 we were informed by an extremely reliable source that Tower Hamlets Council intend for Poplar HARCA was going to take over the rest of the Youth Service hubs but this was denied at the time.
No agreement with Poplar HARCA
This week we checked with Poplar HARCA who confirmed that while Babu Bhattacherjee, Director, Communities and Neighbourhoods, Poplar HARCA was at the meeting, HARCA’s understanding is that while the Borough was only indicating that it wanted to move towards a largely commissioned service rather than an in-house one, which is intended to start from 2021/22, and that “There is no plan or agreement for Poplar HARCA to manage any of the other hubs.”
So that’s that then.
Related Internet Links
- East London’s Bangladeshi street gangs agree to truce – Independent
- Delivering the Prevent Duty: Promoting Safeguarding in Tower Hamlets Scrutiny Review Report – LBTH
- Agenda, decisions and draft minutes LBTH Cabinet – Wednesday, 26th February, 2020 5.30 p.m.
- Tower Hamlets Council’s chief executive resigns after two years – ELA
- Scandal-hit council service back in the spotlight as former investigator reveals extent of alleged corruption – ELA