Hard up LBTH has no idea where £112m Covid-19 cash went

Whitehall has given £112m Covid-19 relief funding to Tower Hamlets council. A FOI response shows the Council has no idea where the money went. None.

The government has given £112,017,000 Covid-19 relief funding to Tower Hamlets this year and the Enquirer thought it might be interesting to see how the council allocated the money.

Sure, it’s only a piffling £112,017,000 but you know what Moley is like.

Repeated normal requests were not successful so we submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request, number 23192241.

Why are these lying bastards lying to us?

Yesterday the Enquirer received the FoI response. The answer? The council has no idea where the £112,017,000 went. None.

Breathtaking isn’t it?

Problem is that the Council is lying through its teeth. We deliberate use the word lie.

Have some cash Tower Hamlets

In August Tower Hamlets received the largest coronavirus business funding grant of any London borough from central government, £73,975,000.

Source: Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Business Grants Fund (RHLGF) Open Office

And some more cash

Then on October 23rd came news that the government had provided another £38,067,000 to the council.

Source: Coronavirus (COVID-19): emergency funding for local government Gov.uk Excel

Which by the Mole’s calculation is a grand total of £112,017,000.

Which is so much money it is difficult to imagine just how much it really is.

The 17,000,000 kebabs are on Suni Rishak

Moley worked out that the government Covid-19 money is enough for a kebab meal (inc. drink & chips) every week for every resident for a year. That much. (Calculations at bottom of page)

Breathtaking, isn’t it?

£112,017,000 has gone, er, somewhere. But exactly where the council does not know.

Maybe it really has been spent on kebabs? If so why did Mole not get one?

Where’s the money Johnny?

‘The Council does not record all payments related to Covid-19 income / contracts / Third Sector contracts separately from other payments.’ is the FoI answer to the Enquirer’s very simple questions.

So what does this mean? Only a few options to be honest.

  1. The Council genuinely has no idea where the central government Covid-19 relief money went.
  2. The Council does know where the money went but can’t be bothered to tell anyone.
  3. The Council does know where the money went but it is actively keeping this information secret.

Payment to Suppliers to the rescue (again)

The precise wording of FoI submissions and answers is always key to the truth. The response says that the Council does not record Covid-19 payments separately.

It may not publish the data separately but it does publish it.

Every local authority has to publish basic details of all payments to its suppliers over £500. You can see the Tower Hamlets Council records here.

Moley has a lot of experience analysing Payment to Suppliers dating back to his original investigative work into Lutfur Rahman. Hundreds of CSV (Comma Separated Value) files. Nightmare.

Not that it needs any great skill, unless you think searching a spreadsheet for the word ‘Covid’ tricky.

That’s all that Mole did and found 504 Payment to Suppliers records within half an hour.

None mentioned ‘Covid’ for March 2020, but for April 2020 we found 63 records totalling £4,214,934.04 and for May 2020 441 records totalling £5,810,328.28

Screen grab from Excel showing Covid-19 payments (our emphasis)

The above screengrab is just an example, you can download the data we found below.

That’s a total of £10,025,262.30. Which only leaves £101,206,672 adrift.

So where’s that? In the petty cash at town hall reception?

Problem is that Tower Hamlets Council Payment to Suppliers data published on its website stops at May 2020. Why?

Southwark Council Payment to Suppliers data is published up to August 2020 and Newham Council Payment to Suppliers data is published up to September 2020.

Taking a mean average from the Covid-19 payments that we have found of £5m a month the currently unpublished data for June to October 2020 should be around £25m. So that’s £35m found.

Which only leaves the Council £77m adrift.

Phew! Thought there was a problem there for a moment. Chill everybody.

These are estimates or, as Mole calls them, guesses. (Projections maybe?).

Thing is that Covid-19 payments are going to be front loaded, in other words there will be higher payments at the start of the period in question than the end.

So where is the data? Where did the money go?

Update 16 November 2020
Have submitted x2 Freedom of Information (FoI) requests to LBTH for some extra clarity on this story. Or even any clarity at all.
FOI #1

  1. Covid-19 cost centre / code(s)
  2. Breakdown of costs allocated to this code by directorate for 2020

Many thanks to the anonymous person who suggested this.

FOI #2
Please can you provide me with Payment to Suppliers information from June 2020 to date please or publish on the LBTH website.

What the feckety feck is going on?

To recap. The Enquirer repeatedly asks the Council communication department where the central government Covid-19 funding has gone and gets no answer so submits three very simple questions in a FoI request.

The FoI response (above) to the three questions all take the same form:
“The Council does not record all payments / all contracts / all Third Sector contracts related to Covid-19 income separately from other payments.”

Well the Council may not record these records separately but record them it does as we have demonstrated.

Some questions to be asked.

  1. Why has the Council lied in response to FoI 23192241? The simple questions leave no room for misinterpretation and their meaning is clear. FoI officers have, by law, a duty to help anyone submitting an FoI. (To be clear we are not blaming the Council FoI officers, they are always very helpful, they only collect the information from other officers.)
  2. Assuming Tower Hamlets Council has lied through its corporate teeth when it says it has no separate records of Covid-19 payments when it does have records what did it expect to gain by making this claims?
  3. Which officers were responsible for saying that ‘I am writing to advise you that, following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by Tower Hamlets Council’?
  4. Why has Tower Hamlets Council only published Payments to Suppliers data up to April when other local authorities publishing schedule has continued as usual? (This is an automated process which will run every month. Unless someone stops it. )
  5. How has the Covid-19 money been allocated? All of it.
  6. Had the Covid-19 money been used solely for its designated purpose or has it been used to fill holes in the Council’s accounts?

Oddly enough Moley is aware that there is something going on in Tower Hamlets that relates to Council finances. And it is not a good thing.

Of which more later. No idea if or how it relates to the Covid-19 funds.

For the moment let us just ponder over this particular issue and try and comprehend how a local authority with some of the highest rates of social deprivation in the country, which is considering closing libraries and other essential front-line services to save cash, can either not know where it has allocated £112,017,000 given to it by central government expressly for Covid-19 relief or does not want anyone else to know.

Tower Hamlets Council, the most corrupt local authority in the country under the control of both Lutfur Rahman and John Biggs, gets no wriggle room in this sort of matter.

Not an inch.

Didn’t understand the FoI questions? No way.

Didn’t realise it did have records of Covid-19 payments and had published some of them? Not possible.

The Council needs to clarify exactly where the funds in question have been allocated and provide full documentation or the government should send in a team to do the job for them.

Unless Rishi Sunak is OK with £112,017,000 going for a wander somewhere?

And there’s more

Central government has a wide range of financial support schemes for businesses during coronavirus (COVID-19) which you can read about here.

Our understanding is that some of these schemes rely on local authorities providing central government with information about businesses that need financial help and funds are then provided to the businesses. Are the funding streams identified above part of this or separate? We are not sure at the moment but have asked the relevant Whitehall department.

£112,017,000 is a lot of cash but have more funds been targeted at organisations and charities in Tower Hamlets?

If so did the money get where it was supposed to?

And did the companies and charities that benefitted actually exist?

This type of fraud was endemic among officers of the council’s Youth Service as detailed in the Poplar Papers.

Although nobody was ever charged with any criminal offence so that’s ok, innit?

Kebabs all round

How the Enquirer Finance Department calculated the kebab capacity of the government’s cash donation to the council.

ItemCost / Quantity
Small Business Grants Fund (SBGF)£73,975,000
Covid-19 Tranche 4 Allocations£38,067,000
Total from central government£112,042,000
Kebab * (& chips) cost£7
Population **319,821
Total quantity kebab meals17,237,231
Kebab meals per resident54
* Halal, includes drink of your choice.
** Includes children.

How HM Treasurer calculated the government’s Covid-19 grants to the council.

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