The £43 million failure of the Garden Bridge is comparable with the Kids Company scandal because government was ‘beguiled’ in both cases by famous individuals, a Commons select committee has heard
Giving evidence to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC), Nick Davies of think-tank the Institute for Government criticised the conclusions of a recent Charity Commission report on the Garden Bridge Trust which said the Garden Bridge scandal was a failure for the entire charity sector.
Instead, Davies said, blame should be laid at the feet of trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust and, in particular, on the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL).
Davies was speaking at a hearing held by the committee yesterday morning (Tuesday) on the government’s management of major projects.
‘The Charity Commission said, I think rather unfairly, that this was a systematic failure of the charity sector,’ Davies said. ‘I think it was a systematic failure of how government can be beguiled by high-profile people pitching high-profile projects.
‘In terms of the failure, I think it is much more similar to the failure that happened with Kids Company, for example, that there are a number of high-profile backers and not enough scrutiny given to the business model for what this was.
‘Clearly, it sounds like there were some failures by the [Garden Bridge] trustees but I think the big failure was by the DfT and TfL in signing off this money without a clear idea of how it was going to be spent or whether the project was actually going to be delivered.’
Davies was responding to questions from London MP Rupa Huq about the Garden Bridge’s loss of public money and lack of accountability.
Both the Garden Bridge Trust and Kids Company spent more than £40 million of public money.
The former directors of Kids Company are facing disqualification as company directors following the collapse of the charity in 2015 and subsequent proceedings by the Insolvency Service. They are understood to be ‘robustly defending’ themselves against these proceedings.
The Garden Bridge Trust is currently being wound up by liquidators at PWC. In its report, the Charity Commission criticised the charity’s approach to transparency and accountability but said trustees, including Joanna Lumley and former chief government construction advisor Paul Morrell, had not breached their legal duties nor mismanaged the charity.
During yesterday’s hearing, Huq complained about the winding up of the trust at a time of what she described as ‘buck-passing’ by institutions which should be protecting the public purse.
Davies added that government was failing to consider the long-term health of projects funded with a mix of taxpayer and charity money.
He said: ‘With capital funding for charitable projects, the question is, is it realistic to expect ongoing charitable donations to fund the revenue costs of maintaining those assets?’
A Transport for London (TfL) spokesperson said: ‘TfL’s involvement in the Garden Bridge project followed four Mayoral Directions signed by the previous mayor. As we have made clear previously, grant payments were made to the Garden Bridge Trust as they had met the conditions of payment, outlined in a funding agreement from July 2015. Had TfL not made this payment, we would have been in breach of our funding agreement.’
The Charity Commission, the DfT and the Garden Bridge Trust have all been approached for comment.