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Public accounts committee has its say on 'sorry tale' of Garden Bridge

Garden bridge revised
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The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is submitting evidence to the mayor of London’s review of the Garden Bridge because it is ‘concerned about the risk to taxpayers’ money’

The review, which is being conducted for the mayor by the committee’s former chair, Margaret Hodge MP, is examining whether value for money has been achieved from taxpayers’ £60 million contribution to the £185 million project to create a new footbridge across the Thames.

While the PAC has not taken a formal position on the Thomas Heatherwick-designed scheme, it has collected evidence and questioned civil servants involved in the decision-making process.

Committee chair Meg Hillier MP said: ‘The story of the Garden Bridge is a sorry tale about how high-profile individuals with the ear of the powerful mayor of London can gain access to funds with little risk.’

She said that it was taxpayers who had footed the bill for a project, which ‘seems largely for the benefit of tourists’. Central government is contributing £30 million towards the project and Transport for London (TfL) £30 million.

Hillier added: ‘With an already stretched budget, TfL can ill afford this and there are still important questions about who would pay the ongoing maintenance of the bridge which the mayor’s review needs to get to the bottom of.

‘All this public money has been pledged without a convincing business case. The timetable has now slipped so there is serious likelihood that if the bridge gets the go-ahead it will clash with work to build the Thames Tideway tunnel.

‘Wishful thinking and a close relationship with the mayor are not the basis on which central government should be spending taxpayers’ money.

‘Even when officials made their concerns clear, the minister overrode them, potentially throwing good money after bad to protect taxpayers’ original investment.

‘If the promised private investment fails to materialise, this muddled thinking will result in a poor deal for taxpayers.’

She said the permanent secretary of the treasury would be providing the committee with his analysis of the business case for the bridge.

After coming into office in May, mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to make the Garden Bridge project more transparent than he said it had been under his predecessor, Boris Johnson.

The mayor of London’s review will also investigate the work of TfL, the Greater London Authority and other relevant authorities in relation to the footbridge.

The PAC’s submission follows Hillier’s warning last month after a damning National Audit Office report into the Department for Transport’s initial decision to provide £30 million of grant funding to the Garden Bridge Trust. She said at the time: ‘I hope the government learned its lesson from the Kids Company fiasco, when for years it bailed out the charitable trust every time it came begging.’ 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • 'While the PAC has not taken a formal position' seems a strange remark when the Chair of the Committee seems to be criticising the project just as strongly as the National Audit Office did.

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