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Audit office: Osborne sidestepped processes on Garden Bridge funding

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Public funding for Garden Bridge put ‘at higher risk’ because normal approval procedures not followed, National Audit Office (NAO) says

Amyas Morse, the comptroller and auditor general at the NAO, had written to the public accounts committee concluding that chancellor George Osborne sidestepped the usual processes for approving Department for Transport (DfT) funding, The Guardian has reported.

Chair of the parliamentiary commiittee Meg Hillier MP wrote to the NAO last September asking for it to investigate the Treasury’s £30m contribution to the controversial £175project designed by Heatherwick Studio.

In early 2014, Osborne, dubbed the ‘austerity chancellor’, had urged London mayor Boris Johnson to use public funds to support the ‘iconic’ project, correspondence obtained by the AJ under Freedom of Information revealed last summer.

Morse’s letter said: ’It is important to note that the results would not in normal circumstances suggest a compelling value for money case … The department’s own quantitative analysis suggested that there may or may not be a net benefit and, especially once concerns over deliverability were taken account of, the project might well not have met the department’s normal threshold for allocating its finite funds.

‘In this context it is important to recognise the wider context, particularly: the initial funding commitments were made by the chancellor to the mayor of London, without the DfT’s involvement.’

The letter added: ’The garden bridge is expected to be predominantly financed through private donations. However, public money was transferred at an early stage in order to allow expenditure on pre-contract award activities with a view to kickstarting fundraising efforts. While this rationale is clear, the timing puts the public sector … at a higher risk than private finance sources of funding proving abortive.’

In October, the AJ broke the news that London mayor Boris Johnson had flown to San Francisco in early 2013 in an effort to win corporate sponsorship for a garden bridge before his administration had given official backing for the scheme.

In response a spokesman for the Department for Transport said that its contribution had been ‘subject to a business case that demonstrated value for money for the taxpayer, and fulfilled Government’s standard requirements’ adding that the funding had a ‘number of detailed conditions attached to it, including a cap on the amount that can be used before the start of construction’.

Comment:

Bee Emmott, executive director of the Garden Bridge Trust
’The public funding that we have received from the DfT and TfL is because of the clear public transport case for the bridge and to help unlock private funding for the project and it has done just that.

The public funding we received is because of the clear public transport case for the bridge

’We have £145million pledged which includes £85million from private sources which has been raised in the last 18 months. We have a robust business case and we are confident we will reach our targets. The Trust will fund both the construction of the Garden Bridge and the ongoing maintenance and operations. We announced Sky as a major founding donor this week and have several other sponsor announcements to make in the next few weeks. We are building momentum all the time.’

A Department for Transport spokesperson
’Our £30 million funding is crucial to help get this iconic new outdoor space in central London off the ground and act as a catalyst to generate private sector funding.

’This funding to TfL is subject to strict criteria to ensure value for money for the taxpayer, including that securing private funding should be a priority.

‘It is now up to the Garden Bridge Trust to ensure they work with their partners to make the bridge a reality.’

 

 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Who's going to tell the Department for Transport spokesperson the facts of life?
    That the river Thames in central London already counts as an 'iconic outdoor space' - about as iconic as it gets - and that we need this mega folly planted on it about as much as we need a machiavellian finance minister preaching one thing in public and doing the opposite (with our money) on the sly, we need a devious and manipulative trick-cyclist of a politician two-timing as both Mayor of London and a Member of Parliament while manoeuvring for the top job, or we need a Prime Minister from whom no-one in their right mind would buy a second hand car.

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