Tower Hamlets chief goes undercover for TV show
Local government cuts threaten jobs and services across the country and Tower Hamlets is faced with making savings of £50million over three years.
Where to cut is a dilemma but Tower Hamlets chief executive Kevan Collins has taken a novel approach to the problem.
He spent just over a week as an "undercover boss" for a Channel 4 documentary being screened this evening.
Mr Collins, 49, donned a disguise to work alongside the people delivering frontline services, such as meals on wheels, and the experience has helped him crystalize where the council's priorities should be.
He said: "I learned three things: how dedicated and passionate the people are about what they do; that we can always improve services and join them together better; and just how many of the people we support are immediately vulnerable.
"They have a real need and if we pull services back they will be the hardest hit. We need to make cuts without affecting them.
"It was a reminder of what we do, and the importance of direct services like meals on wheels. At all costs we should be squeezing the town hall and back office to save money, rather than the frontline."
Mr Collins hoped the programme will help show Tower Hamlets in a better light.
He said: "We often get a bad press because of the social problems here, so I wanted to show what we do here day in and day out.
"Although poverty is a problem, I want people to see the really high quality services we provide in difficult circumstances."
He said he was initially reluctant to sign up for the show, but found the experience rewarding.
"I took a bit of persuading to do it because I was worried it might be a bit of a stitch-up job. But I spoke to a couple of other people who had been on it, and the production team were very persuasive. It's pretty balanced and I'd urge other bosses to do it, because it's a good way to find out more about the value of your staff."
Mr Collins, who became chief executive last June, said being relatively new to the post made it easier to pass unnoticed during filming.
He said: "It was filmed in February, so not that many people knew who I was. I'd also grown a beard, although I'd had to pretend that was for charity to put people off the scent.
"I enjoyed the experience, but I don't think I'm ready to switch to a career in television just yet."
Undercover Boss is broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight.