London Assembly member Tom Copley has demanded answers from TfL’s commissioner over the release of £7 million-worth of funding in early 2016
Last month the AJ discovered through an FOI that Transport for London’s (TfL) then planning boss, Richard de Cani, had sought to persuade central government to release £3.5 million for the controversial scheme in early 2016 after he had accepted a job at the £185 million project’s engineer, Arup, and had handed in his notice.
Labour London Assembly member Tom Copley, a prominent critic of the Garden Bridge, has now written to TfL commissioner Mike Brown demanding to know how De Cani was permitted to be involved in financial negotiations over a project his future employer had a ‘significant financial stake in’.
Copley wrote: ‘The correspondence shows Mr De Cani advocated to the DfT that the [Garden Bridge] Trust had satisfied the conditions for the contract to be signed. Due to Arup’s role as a major contractor for the Garden Bridge, this seems to me to be a clear conflict of interest.’
Copley said the Civil Service had clear guidelines in its business appointment rules to avoid conflicts of interest and questioned why TfL seemed to lack such ‘safeguards’.
He continued: ‘Please can you outline TfL’s HR guidelines around conflict of interest, and what covenants Mr De Cani’s contract contained concerning any future employment?
‘Please review the relevant correspondence concerning Mr De Cani’s involvement in the signing of the contract during his notice period, and disclose details of the discussions that took place about Mr De Cani’s future involvement in the Garden Bridge project once TfL was aware he would be working for Arup.’
The release of the £3.5 million from the Department for Transport to the Garden Bridge Trust – to be matched by TfL – was dependent not only on the trust signing a construction contract but also on meeting several conditions, several of which remain in doubt a year on.
These included demonstrating to TfL’s satisfaction that it had ‘secured, or was able to secure all necessary consents needed to deliver the project’, had ‘secured or was able to secure, a suffient level of funding, including the grant from TfL, to cover the costs of construction of the bridge’ and had ‘secured a satisfactory level of funding to operate and maintain the bridge once it is built for at least the first five years’.
Copley hit out at TfL’s ‘deeply misleading’ response to the AJ’s story
In his letter, Copley hit out at TfL’s ‘deeply misleading’ response to the AJ’s story, a response which omitted mention of these conditions.
‘The Deed of Grant specifies a number of conditions that have to be met to TfL’s satisfaction,’ Copley wrote. ‘I do not believe it is proper that a managing director at TfL with a professional conflict of interest, perceived or otherwise, should have been involved in making judgements that could benefit his new employer.’
A spokesperson for TfL confirmed that its commissioner ‘had received the letter and [would] be responding to Tom Copley in due course’.
Garden bridge underbridge viewp
Dan Anderson, of tourist attraction consultancy Fourth Street
‘The minute the Garden Bridge Trust indicated that it was going to sign a construction contract, it was incumbent on Transport for London to decide whether the trust had done enough to satisfy the conditions in its funding agreement.
‘Based on the trust’s recently published accounts, I don’t think they come anywhere close to satisfying those conditions today. So I don’t understand how TfL could have been sufficiently satisfied with its progress back in February 2016 to release a full £7 million of public funds. To the outside observer it looks like TfL was potentially acting in the best interests of the trust and not in the best interests of the taxpayer.
‘Given the oddity of that decision and the level of expenditure that it triggered, I really do think that TfL should provide some reassurance that the decision was not taken solely or primarily by an individual who was clearly in a conflicted position.’