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Tories demand probe into Hodge’s Garden Bridge inquiry

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A Conservative member of the London Assembly has attacked Margaret Hodge’s report on the Garden Bridge, claiming she broke Parliamentary rules during her research and was paid, despite the GLA saying she would work pro bono

Andrew Boff has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards claiming the Labour MP used her Parliamentary office to conduct interviews relating to the review – a potential breach of Parliamentary rules.

He also said she had been paid £9,500 for her work, which began in September 2016 and concluded with the publication of the damning report in April this year.

A mayoral decision published in October concerning Hodge’s appointment said she would provide her services ‘free of charge’ but would have a £25,000 contingency budget to cover legal or specialist advice she might require.

Boff said: ‘This shoddily-conducted review has been a total farce from start to finish. Dame Margaret Hodge has eroded all credibility in the judgement by her sloppy methods of investigation.

‘This is a serious matter, one that has already cost the taxpayer a minimum of £46 million, yet this review has been taken anything but seriously.

‘The mayor needs to explain why the decision was suddenly taken to pay Hodge £9,500 and why there was not greater scrutiny on her ability to conduct the review.

‘Having forked out almost £50 million, Londoners deserve some answers.’

The mayor needs to explain why the decision was suddenly taken to pay Hodge £9,500

A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards confirmed it had ’received correspondence’ containing Boff’s allegations and would usually respond within five days.

’When the Commissioner receives an allegation, she would consider it carefully before deciding whether to investigate,’ the spokesperson added. ’She is able to investigate only if the allegation falls within her remit for investigation and if it is supported by sufficient evidence.’

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who appointed Hodge for the review, said: ’Dame Margaret Hodge is hugely respected across all political parties for her work on the Public Accounts Committee holding high-profile public bodies to account. Her independent review of the Garden Bridge was detailed and forensic, in the line with her previous work as one of the UK’s leading scrutineers.’

Khan backed the Garden Bridge until Hodge’s report on its procurement and value-for-money was published, prompting him to withdraw the offer of a vital financial guarantee on the bridge’s annual maintenance costs in late April.

Since then, the charity developing the £200 million project, the Garden Bridge Trust, has been almost completely silent with no updates on its website and no activity on Twitter since 3 May.

The AJ understands the trust has been approaching potential financial backers in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the Heatherwick-designed scheme.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and Hodge have been contacted for comment.

Key points made by Hodge following her inquiry, which London mayor Sadiq Khan ordered last September

  • Former mayor Boris Johnson refused to co-operate with the review either in person or in writing despite several requests, a decision which Hodge ‘deeply regrets’.
  • The evidence suggests procurement options were ‘intentionally developed to enable Heatherwick Studio to qualify’.
  • Former London mayor Johnson ‘must be held responsible’ for the fact that both the procurement of Heatherwick Studio and Arup were neither open, fair nor competitive.
  • The current mayor should introduce greater transparency into the procurement process and ‘more effective checks and balances’ to ensure public money is properly spent as well as a review of employment conditions so there can be ‘no hint of a conflict of interest when contracts are let by Transport for London or the Greater London Authority.
  • Thomas Heatherwick did co-operate with the inquiry, telling Hodge that his firm had earned £2.6 million from the Garden Bridge project by the end of November 2016 and expected to earn £2.7 million in total.
  • Heatherwick was closely involved in decisions about who should serve as trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust following his appointment to design the project.
  • Decisions on the Garden Bridge were driven more by electoral cycles than value for taxpayers’ money.
  • The costs have escalated from an early estimate of £60 million to over £200 million today.
  • The risk to the taxpayer has intensified. The original ambition to fund the Garden Bridge through private finance has been abandoned. The Garden Bridge Trust has lost two major private donors and has pledges of £69 million, with no new pledges secured since August 2016. With a public sector contribution of £60 million, that leaves a gap in capital funding of at least £70 million. Furthermore, very little progress has been made on raising money to fund the ongoing maintenance of a completed bridge.
  • The Garden Bridge Trust’s finances are in a precarious state, and many outstanding risks remain unresolved.

Comment

’It is very sad that a Conservative assembly member is desperately attempting to grab headlines by attacking Margaret Hodge. Londoners and taxpayers were done a great service by her thorough investigation.

’The person who should still be answering questions is Boris Johnson, who repeatedly refused to meet Margaret Hodge and assist her investigation. Despite making a number of fundamental errors and wasting millions of pounds of public money he has run away from being held accountable.’

Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly member

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Given that Councillor Boff is no fan of the garden bridge project, it's unfortunate that he hasn't also directed his ire at his fellow Conservative multi-role politician, the Rt Hon Boris Johnson, who declined to discuss the garden bridge affair with Margaret Hodge - or is he thinking that these criticisms of Hodge give Johnson cover for failing to justify his antics?

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  • We gave oral and written evidence to Margaret Hodge MP. Our experience of giving that evidence and our reading of her report makes it quite clear that more diligent scrutiny was applied by her than by all of the evidence gathering and analysis of the entire TfL team, GLA planning decisions team, and Lambeth Council planning and regeneration teams put together. Apart from the sheer quality and incisiveness on the part of Hodge, there was also an honesty and integrity which was in marked contrast to the deliberate obfuscation and dissembling of TfL from Commissioners Hendy and Brown downwards.

    And then there is the question of payments and cost. Hendy was paid around £650k by TfL in 2012-13, the year this wretched project was illegitimately green-lighted by TfL through the manipulation of procedure and the illegal misprocurement of services.

    Andrew Boff has always been scrupulous about the need for 'clean hands', and his integrity was always clear by his willingness to question this project openly when most in his party and many across the political spectrum were keeping their doubts quiet. But Andrew needs to get a sense of proportion. If Hodge were paid £9,500 despite Sadiq initially claimed she was acting pro bono, that would be a concern - but it pales into utter insignificance in the face of the fact that TfL has already blown £37m through illegitimate processes and illegal activities at the behest of Commissioners paid 70 times Hodge's purported fee, and whose key job was to advise the Mayor on what was and was not a genuine transport project, what was and was not a transport priority, what was and was not transport policy, what was and was not value for money, what was and was not procurable, what was and was not legal requirements for procurement, what was and was not a significant risk to TfL finances now and into the foreseeable future, and what was and was not to be considered a legitimate trigger to hand over millions of pounds to a third party who clearly lacked the capability of using that money to actually build a garden bridge.

    The GLA needs to address the very large beam in its TfL eye before worrying about the purported mote in Hodge.

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