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TfL's Garden Bridge probe slammed as a 'whitewash'

  • 5 Comments

Critics including Labour candidate for mayor Sadiq Khan seize on earlier more critical version of mayoral body’s internal procurement review leaked to the AJ

The official review of the Garden Bridge procurement process which defended the way in which Heatherwick Studio was appointed has been widely condemned and described as a ‘whitewash’ by Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan.

Khan and fellow mayoral candidate and Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon both spoke out today after the leak of an earlier, more critical version of the review document to the Architects’ Journal.

Two weeks ago, Transport for London (TfL) released the results of its internal audit into its procurement of London’s £175m Garden Bridge.

This found ‘no evidence’ that its selection of designer Thomas Heatherwick did not provide value for money yet did not directly address critics’ claims the appointments of Heatherwick and technical designer Arup were ‘pre-judged’.

Now, an earlier version of the review document sent in July by TfL’s director of internal audit Clive Walker to director of strategy and policy Richard De Cani (attached), has been leaked which directly criticises the ‘openness and objectivity’ of the two 2013 contests.

De Cani, who earlier this month was grilled for more than two hours by the London Assembly’s oversight committee, told the committee that he had personally evaluated Heatherwick’s bid and those of its two competitors Wilkinson Eyre and Marks Barfield.

Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan MP, who recently said he would scrap the Garden Bridge if elected, said the leaked document appeared to show a ‘whitewash’ had taken place.

‘This document casts huge doubt over Boris Johnson’s handling of the Garden Bridge procurement process. It looks like a whitewash designed to cover up incompetence,’ he said.
‘It questions the financial viability of the Garden Bridge, the way the procurement process was run and suggests that TFL’s own rules were repeatedly broken. Boris Johnson urgently needs to explain why this report was whitewashed and by whom. And the project needs to be shelved until we have a proper investigation into this mess.

Lib Dem mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon and member of the London Assembly’s oversight committee said: ‘It seems that TfL’s audit of the procurement process went through a sanitising process before its publication that Alistair Campbell would be proud of.’

Pidgeon - who persuaded then TfL commissioner to launch the internal review in June by highlighting FOI stories published by the Architects’ Journal - added: ‘Far from the investigation process into the procurement process being over, I believe it has only started.

‘To finally reveal the true process that was followed by TfL under their instructions from the Mayor of London I believe it might now be time for the London Assembly to hold more evidence sessions and directly question the person who carried out the audit process.’

Professor of business law at the University of Hull, Christopher Bovis, who has advised the Commons transport committee on European procurement and has previously criticised the Garden Bridge business case and procurement decisions said: ‘It is remarkably questionable to have an earlier highly critical audit report sanitised for its published version and worded in such a way as to protect the contracting authority from criticism related to the entire procurement process.’

Observers have long claimed that mayoral body TfL wanted to see Heatherwick and engineer Arup appointed prior to holding the competitions thanks to successful lobbying of mayor Boris Johnson by Heatherwick and Garden Bridge celebrity backer Joanna Lumley.

In February, the AJ obtained under FOI a handwritten note from Lumley to Johnson sent in May 2012, which urged the mayor to support her concept for a Garden bridge which would bring ‘great loveliness’ to the Thames.

Will Jennings, the organiser of A Folly for London, the high-profile satirical ideas competition which sought alternatives to the Garden Bridge said: ‘If this new information is correct and this internal TfL audit was edited and reworded by persons or people being discussed within it, then it appears to be yet another stage in a process of backwards-engineering towards the Mayor’s instructed Heatherwick/Arup project at the behest of an old family friend.

It appears to be yet another stage in a process of backwards-engineering

‘The whole Garden Bridge development seems to treat the public with total contempt and mistrust in what is turning out to be a casebook study in undemocratic process, dodgy procurement, greenwash and arrogance.’

Jennings and other observers claimed the earlier audit document was particularly notable for the following reasons:

  • It makes no mention of value for money. Was an artificial ‘test’ inserted into the published audit in an attempt to make it more favourable?
  • The sentence ‘Prior to this meeting the Mayor and TfL had received representations from Thomas Heatherwick Studio regarding a proposal for a “Garden Bridge” at this location.’ This was altered in the published version to read that the Mayor had received the proposal and then met with TfL after, which may or may not be correct but is very different because it distances TfL from Heatherwick.
  • It makes multiple mentions of the need for OJEU including the legal advice stating that any procurement ‘will need to be subject to competition through OJEU’. The change of ‘will need to be’ to ‘might be a suitable process’ in the published version is significantly different and appears to help to justify TfL’s actual procurement decisions.
  • It states: ‘The manner in which the evaluation process in both procurements was undertaken contravenes TfL Procurement policy and procedure in a number of instances’ which is far stronger than the wording in the published version. It also concludes: ‘taken together these adversely impact on the openness and objectivity of the procurements’, a highly critical conclusion which is not communicated in the published version.

A TfL spokesperson said: ‘We carry out regular audits of our activities and it is a standard part of the process for draft audit reports to be shared with the business for comment before a final report is issued to ensure accuracy of the information gathered.

‘This was a rigorous and detailed audit carried out by a separate audit department and the published report contains their considered conclusions having been through this standard process.’

FURTHER COMMENTS

Peter Smith, procurement expert and editor of the Spend Matters blog

‘This was not just two really poor procurement processes with several examples of very bad practice, but going back to Arup in particular to ask for lower prices after the proposals were received contravenes the basic EU Treaty Principles of equal treatment and transparency and is therefore fundamentally illegal. If any unsuccessful supplier had legally challenged that decision, the court would have thrown out the contract award , without a doubt.

‘Without an audit trail to explain how Heatherwick scored so well given their lack of experience, the decision to award them the first contract cannot be explained.

‘I know that TfL have some very good procurement people. I can only imagine they were told to somehow make sure certain decisions were arrived at, come what may.’

 

  • 5 Comments

Readers' comments (5)

  • Today we learnt that London will now not be hosting the 2017 Tour de France. “To ensure value for money we must make difficult choices,” says a TfL spokesman.

    Fortunately, here's a really easy choice for TfL: give up your subsidy for this intrusive and ridiculous vanity project - and do it today.

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  • Why is Boris Johnson still in office? Why don't we 'call him in'?
    We are supposed to be a democracy so why are we allowing this megalomaniac to continue to make a mockery of the democratic process? The housing crisis has been exacerbated by his overriding council and community decisions based on community and housing need in favour of developer prophets and wealth generation for the elite. I can't believe we're all standing by and allowing this to happen.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • is any of this, or the other suspected actions in terms of funding, illegal?

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  • Peter Smith of Spend Matters, a procurement website, says there is much illegal, yes.

    "An Illegal Procurement Process, Basically"

    "So the audit comment that the procurements did not follow TfL good practice or internal regulations is understating it somewhat. TfL broke the law, simple as that, and it is a great shame no other bidder has challenged the decision in the courts."


    http://spendmatters.com/uk/garden-bridge-audit-report-an-illegal-procurement-process-basically/#.VhOf-KgnxDQ.twitter

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  • Capital sleaze, Boris - what a hoot.

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