Lib Dem leader Vince Cable has added his voice to calls for the Garden Bridge Trust to release details of its decision-making after the Charity Commission declined to intervene
Last week critics accused the trust of ‘going rogue’ after it refused an official request from its public-sector sponsor Transport for London to hand over minutes of all its board meetings.
Amid anger over the estimated loss of £46.4 million of taxpayers’ money on the cancelled bridge, the trust – a registered charity which is in the process of being wound up – argues that it is not required to produce the minutes, while TfL argues that the trust is legally bound to do so under the two organisations’ 2015 Deed of Grant.
Now, Cable – who recently spoke out over the Garden Bridge saga, calling for TfL boss Mike Brown to face an inquiry over a £7 million grant provided to the trust by TfL in 2016 – has demanded that the trust comply with TfL’s demand.
‘These records must be released,’ Cable told the AJ. ‘It is vital that we get to the bottom of what happened here and understand how so much public money was wasted on a failed project.’
Former Tory transport minister and London mayoral candidate Steven Norris also called for the minutes to be released. He said: ‘This is an extraordinary way for the Garden Bridge Trust to act. Given the substantial amount of public money devoted to this disastrously misguided project, the public, never mind TfL, has a right to know what the trustees were deciding as the losses mounted. What has the Trust got to hide?’
And leading charity sector consultant Stella Smith said she was staggered by the trust’s behaviour.
‘I can hardly believe that a publicly funded charity won’t hand over records of how, when and why decisions were made,’ she said. ‘It’s not as if it was a small amount of money.
‘One might expect better of an organisation that has charitable status. We tend to assume that charitable organisations have higher ethical standards than those in other sectors, and sadly this demonstrates that it isn’t always the case.’
But a spokesperson for charities regulator the Charity Commission said the matter was one for the trust and that the charity had no automatic legal obligation to provide the minutes to a ‘third party’.
‘It is important that charities are accountable and transparent to their donors and supporters,’ the spokesperson said. ‘The commission carried out a thorough compliance case into the Garden Bridge Trust last year which examined the charity’s governance and included an inspection of the charity’s books and records.
‘We found that the trustees were meeting their duties and were acting in compliance with charity law.’
In its latest letter to the trust, dated 22 January, TfL’s legal chief Howard Carter gave the charity 10 days to respond. The AJ understands that no letter of reply has yet been received by TfL.
The Garden Bridge Trust has been contacted for comment.