London Mayor Sadiq Khan has backed calls for a new Parliamentary or National Audit Office probe into the millions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money spent on the Garden Bridge.
Speaking at Mayor’s Question Time yesterday (20 July), Khan said his administration had carried out exhaustive scrutiny into the aborted Heatherwick-designed project and pointed out that central government had committed £9 million of underwriting to the scheme.
This cash, Khan noted, had been promised more recently than money from London taxpayers, against strong advice from top civil servants at the Department for Transport (DfT).
A total of £60 million of public money was committed to the Garden Bridge, which was scrapped in August last year, with half coming from the DfT and half from Transport for London (TfL). Despite the fact that construction never began, the total bill to public purse is expected to be around £46million.
Calls for a Parliamentary inquiry have been made in the past few weeks by MPs such as shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne, Lib Dem leader Vince Cable and Labour MP for Vauxhall Kate Hoey.
Responding to a question from Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley, a long-time critic of the Garden Bridge, Khan confirmed there was no chance of this money being recovered.
‘The bad news is that the money, authorised under direction by the previous mayor, has been spent,’ he said. ‘Previously, City Hall has done a lot of work in relation to the [inquiry] work the Oversight committee has done, TfL has done a lot of work, there’s the work Margaret Hodge did.
‘Central government authorised the spending of a considerable amount of money as recently as last year against the advice of the [DfT] permanent secretary so if the Public Accounts Committee or the NAO was to look into this, we would provide all the assistance that they wanted.’
Khan also said that some details of charity The Garden Bridge Trust’s spending had been revealed though his intervention along with the recently-published minutes of the Trust’s board meetings.
And he said he expected ‘full transparency’ from the Trust as it winds up over the next few weeks including a line-by-line account of all its spending – something promised by the Trust’s chair Mervyn Davies in a letter to Khan sent last August.
Speaking afterwards, Copley said: ‘The failed Garden Bridge project is not just a London scandal, it’s a national scandal. The DfT provided public money for the project alongside TfL, and we already know that civil servants who were reluctant to support the project were overruled by ministers.
‘The London Assembly will continue to scrutinise the project, but it’s time Parliament got involved as well. I’m pleased the Mayor has indicated that he would be in favour of this.’