Discontent has been brewing since July, when a consortium of black organisations with a solid track record of tackling gangs and working with black boys was overlooked in favour of the London Action Trust (LAT), a charity which Boris Johnson was a patron of.
LAT, which was in dire financial straights during the bidding process, has since gone into Administration. Tory former mayoral candidate Steve Norris and Boris Johnson’s budget and performance adviser Nick Griffin were both on LAT’s board. See Lee Jasper’s blog post here for more details.
This afternoon, at a meeting of the London Assembly, a key official admitted that Ray Lewis had not declared a conflict of interest. Lizzie Noel, the mayors adviser on social action and volunteering, sidestepped questions about whether anyone else involved in the decision had also failed to declare an interest.
The mayor promised the mentoring scheme would match 1,000 young black men with 1,000 mentors, but almost a year later they have only managed twenty-one mentor matches.
Questioned by Labour assembly member Len Duvall, the mayors’ team admitted that after the original assessment committee had scored each bid to run the scheme, which scored the Freeman Oliver black consortium highest, the mayor’s chief of staff Sir Edward Lister got involved and ran a new assessment.
The chair of the ‘decision’ committee, a black man named Ron Belgrave, was effectively sidelined as Sir Edward took charge. Belgrave told Duvall that he had become only the “nominal chair”.
A number of black people in the audience, who had attending over concern that black boys in London will lose out if the winning consortium are unable to deliver, expressed verbal dissatisfaction with the answers given by Noel and another mayoral adviser, Jeff Jacobs.
It was revealed that even after the second assessment, the Freeman Oliver black consortium still came out top. Despite this, the mayor personally awarded the contract to the London Action Trust and the University of East London, neither of whom had any track record of working with black youth.
Noel said that she reserved the right to select new partners to help the UEL university in order to “meet targets”. Noel denied that any City Hall official had encouraged LAT to join forces with UEL after the bid deadline had closed.
It is now clear that of the four bidders who made it to the final stage, the top two – who were black consortia – both lost out while the bottom two mysteriously linked up during the process and were awarded the contract. One of them, LAT, has since gone bust.
Speaking on the BBC London Dotun Adebayo show last Sunday, Paul Lawrence a leading member of the losing black consortium, expressed dissatisfaction at how the process had been handled.
Despite the Freeman Oliver consortium ticking all the boxes, they were rejected because City Hall did not have confidence in their financial stability. Yet LAT, which Companies House records show was over £200,000 in debt at the time, did not fail this financial test. It has been suggested that LAT was never subjected to due diligence during the bidding process.
Critics say that these issues matter because the winning bidder is already struggling to deliver the mentoring scheme, which is running behind schedule. If the black consortium came top in the process why were they not awarded the contract to help divert black boys away from a life of crime?
And why was a hastily-formed consortium which had no track record of working with black boys given the job? Did the network of Boris Johnson advisers sitting on LAT influence the decision to give the contract to LAT and UEL? And did the mayor declare an interest as a patron of LAT before taking the final decision himself?
I suspect these are questions that will not go away until answers are provided. This developing scandal of potential cronyism, and an unfair bias against a credible black consortium, is likely to be an issue right up to next years’ London elections.
This blog item has been updated to remove reference to Ray Lewis being on LAT’s board. In fact he was not on LAT, but was merely the posterboy for the mentoring scheme which is now mired in controversy and allegations of Tory cronyism.
Lewis will be giving evidence to the London Assembly shortly. We shall see how that goes…