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Garden Bridge failure should be likened to Kids Company scandal, MPs told

Garden bridge  winter

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.

Nick Davies, Institute for Government

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.


Readers' comments (4)

  • I'm not sure I like the comparison with Kids Company. Yes, there were charismatic individuals at the helm of both - although it's probably not often that Camila Batmanghelidjh and Joanna Lumley are grouped together - but Kids Company was criticised for handing out money to needy individuals without sufficient scrutiny while the Garden Bridge lot, backed all the way by the then mayor, can be criticised for handing out money to the very well heeled. Not for a second would I compare that other charismatic blond, the ex mayor, to Batmanghelidjh: one motivated solely by self interest, the other by a desire to help the poor.
    In fact it's hard to guess how the Garden Bridge people spent so much - endless consultants, obviously, and untendered contracts, but also countless jamborees for their friends, it seems.
    Where the Charity Commission is at fault is in allowing dubious organisations with little or no public benefit to become charities in the first place. The public benefit of Kids Company was clear, the public benefit of the bridge was such that it was eventually cancelled. It seemed to be solely connected with what the French have called augurité - the desperate desire of politicians to inaugurate something, anything, at no matter what cost.

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  • The beneficiaries of Kids Company were some very deprived children in South London. The beneficiaries of the Garden Bridge Trust were supposed to be... What? Thomas' glittering career? Boris and assorted senior officers at TfL and Lambeth Council who looked to be getting significant feathers in their caps?

    And who were the beneficiaries of Boris' beneficence? Who got the £43m of wasted public funds? Bouygues, who got £20m for a cancelled construction contract; Arup, who got £9m for an engineering and design contract; and Heatherwick, who got a significant portion of Arup's fee as a design sub-contractor.

    TfL clearly believe that if they repeat the same nonsense people will believe it: but, as the AJ has demonstrated, £9m of public funds should not have been doled out to the Garden Bridge Trust since at least two of the six conditions of payment had NOT been met - the GBT didn't have access to the land to build the bridge, or an implementable planning permission, or the funding to complete it, or the money to maintain and operate it. The truth is TfL paid out that money in Feb 16, the fag-end of Boris' tenure as Mayor, to render it far more difficult for Boris' successor to cancel the project - and Sadiq almost fell into the trap by initially announcing that it would be cheaper to complete the project than to cancel it... Luckily he then invited Hodge to investigate and found out otherwise. Why Sadiq hasn't sacked the TfL Commissioner for such incompetence or treachery is anyone's guess.

    Meanwhile the beneficent bounder Boris stalks the land, untroubled by his cavalier deceit - indeed he fashioned the current political crisis with his cavalier deceit over Brexit, and is currently proposing his candidacy as Premier on a similar cavalier deceit. Can no one rid us of this troublesome fiend?

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  • Long-winded nonsense. The scandal about the garden bridge is that a cynical new mayor’s decision to oppose the bridge, having previously supported it, guaranteed a massive waste of public money because we won’t get the bridge we partly paid for. In the case if the ‘Olympicopolis’ Arts scheme, initiated by Boris and supported by Chancellor Osborne, we will get what we have paid for because Creepy Khan chose not to oppose it. C’est tout.

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  • I hope you will be covering the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf bridge debacle in the same detail, similar story, politicians deciding the solution before any analysis has been done and picking the most expensive option
    £11 million already spent (more then cost of new ferries), public consultation now twice delayed
    Budget now £330 million up from £120-180 million estimate (as a reminder garden bridge went from £60 to £200 million)
    Ferry option is a fraction of the price and could have been delivered by now if work started in autumn 2016

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