London’s mayor is happy to talk tough about the Garden Bridge scandal when it costs him nothing – just don’t expect him to say anything about TfL and its accountability, writes Will Hurst
It is well over two years since London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, criticised the Garden Bridge project on the grounds of transparency and promised that he would do things very differently than his predecessor Boris Johnson.
Speaking in May 2016, he said: ‘The early days of this project clearly fell short of our expectations on transparency. I am determined to run the most open and transparent administration London has ever seen. I will let the sunshine in.’
While Khan did eventually let a lot of sunshine in by appointing the veteran MP Margaret Hodge to investigate the Heatherwick-designed scheme’s procurement and value for money, he seems to have once again closed the metaphorical blinds.
Despite the estimated £46 million cost to the taxpayer and a steadily lengthening list of serious questions over the actions of the Garden Bridge Trust and the public body supposedly overseeing it Transport for London (TfL, which the mayor chairs), Khan seems only to wish the whole thing would go away.
Why else would he issue such a pitiful response to our latest story, which reveals that a QC has opined that the trustees of the Garden Bridge likely breached their legal duties to act with reasonable skill and care, particularly in relation to the signing of the construction contract?
It’s a simple fact that senior TfL officers attended board meetings of the Garden Bridge Trust and enabled the Trust’s fateful signing of the construction contract with Bouygues in 2016, in breach of conditions of the funding agreement intended to protect the public purse.
Khan chose to respond to the latest news with a canned answer
But, instead of addressing the very serious implications of Jason Coppel QC’s opinion for TfL and its leadership, Khan instead chose to respond to the latest news with a canned answer that simply repeated details of his own past role in limiting the extent of Garden Bridge spending.
Of course, the mayor is happy to talk tough about this slowly-unfolding scandal when it costs him nothing. Therefore, he demands ‘full transparency’ from the Trust as it winds up and is happy to back calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into the Garden Bridge when this is suggested by Labour colleagues.
Just don’t expect him to say anything about TfL and its accountability.
These days, the only time Khan does say something of substance about the Garden Bridge is when there’s the chance of getting this unholy mess off his desk.