Controversy surrounding Boris Johnson’s mentoring scheme for black boys looks set to increase after one of the mayor’s former officials admitted that the rejected black-led consortium was “head and shoulders” above the bid that won.
The losing Freeman Oliver consortium – backed by several prominent black mentoring experts – was significantly better than the consortium that was awarded the contract according to Ron Belgrave, the mayor’s former head of community safety at City Hall.
The admission came as Belgrave gave evidence to an inquiry by London assembly members into how the University of East London (UEL) was awarded the three-year £1.3m grant to match 1,000 black boys at risk of school exclusions and crime with 1,000 black mentors.
The mayor’s office promised that 180 mentors would be matched with mentees by the end of December, but so far the winning bid has delivered on just a third of that figure, matching 63 young people with mentors.
Belgrave told a London assembly inquiry last week that he pushed for City Hall to carry out due diligence on the junior partner in the losing bid, the charity Barnardo’s, after Freeman Oliver failed the stringent financial test, but his pleas were ignored.
He received advice from City Hall’s assistant director of finance that the mentoring grant “could be pursued if the appropriate guarantees were achieved” from Barnardo’s, who were due to handle the financial side anyway in the event of Freeman Oliver winning. The mayor’s officials deny knowledge of this advice.
The contract was eventually awarded to the UEL consortium despite their lack of experience dealing with at-risk black youth. It later emerged that a junior partner in the UEL bid had close links to City Hall.
The London Action Trust, which has since gone into Administration, was chaired by former Conservative mayoral candidate Steven Norris, and the board also included Boris Johnson’s budget advisor, Nick Griffin.
Norris was also on the board of the Eastside Young Leaders Academy, run by the mayor’s ‘Mentoring Champion’ Ray Lewis (pictured above with Boris Johnson), who was an influential figure in the process to award the mentoring grant to UEL.
It has now emerged that the bid that scored lowest, the Active Communities Network, has now joined the UEL consortium. Tory assembly member James Cleverly called for UEL to approach Freeman Oliver to help run the project.
Lewis admitted that the winning consortium’s performance had been “disappointing” and said they needed to “raise their game.”
However Lewis faced questions about his own links to Dr Ian Joseph of UEL. Challenged by Labour assembly member Len Duvall, Lewis said that Dr Joseph had undertaken voluntary work for his Eastside Young Leaders Academy, and that they attended the same church.
Lewis went on to act as an advisor to UEL after the mentoring contract was awarded to them.
I recently blogged about newly-released figures showing that over a third of would-be mentors who applied to help black youth were not from a black background themselves.
Last week, under questioning from the assembly panel chairwoman Joanne McCartney, Belgrave said he believed there was an “in principle” decision to award Freeman Oliver the grant after the first stage of deliberations, which he chaired.
However he was sidelined during the second stage, when Johnson’s chief-of-staff, Sir Edward Lister, took charge of the process. Belgrave said: “It ceased to be my Panel at some point in the process, I was not part of the decision-making after the second interviews.”
He added: “I want to clarify that I understand that there were some meetings before the second interview that I also was not party to.” Lizzie Noel, the mayor’s advisor on social action and volunteering, denied there were any formal meetings.
It has also emerged that six months after the grant was awarded, UEL are still looking for a partner to deliver the scheme in Haringey. UEL have lost two junior partners after Ethos Consultancy pulled out after encountering “difficulties” and the London Action Trust went bust.
Lewis said he held regular meetings with the mayor in his role as Mentoring Champion and was the public face of the project. But when asked by Lib Dem assembly member Caroline Pidgeon whether he had raised his concerns about the performance of a project with Johnson, Lewis replied: “ I do not cast pearls before swine. No.”
I have heard that Freeman Oliver were rejected because Johnson – who took the final decision on the bid – believed that individuals in the consortium had links with Ken Livingstone’s former race advisor, Lee Jasper.
Social entrepreneur Viv Ahmun, who was part of the losing bid, told Vox Africa TV in November that the contract had been awarded to “the wrong group” and that the winning consortium “do not have the capacity to do the work or the expertise, and that was clear in the tendering process.”
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