National Audit Office slams Garden Bridge as poor value for money for the taxpayer
Today, the National Audit Office published its report on the £30m granted to the Garden Bridge Trust from the Department for Transport https://view.publitas.com/p222-10185/nao-11250-001-the-garden-bridge-book/
It states in no uncertain terms, that the Garden Bridge Trust has already wasted £22.5m of public money which cannot be clawed back, but if the project was to continue, there is a very great risk of the public footing the bill if the Garden Bridge Trust (GBT) fails or runs out of money, which is very likely given it its still up to £75m short and has yet to acquire land rights on the South Bank.
The Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Meg Hillier stated today: "If the project collapses, taxpayers stand to lose £22.5 million [of DfT funding]. If it goes ahead, who is going to pick up the bill to maintain it? 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."
TCOS wrote to all London mayoral candidates back in 2015 and asked them to pass on concerns about the Garden Bridge to the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee (PAC). We also wrote independently to both organisations with our evidence that the Garden Bridge presented poor value for money to the taxpayer. Our efforts were rewarded with reponses from Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office Sir Amyas Morse, Department for Transport Permanent Secretary Philip Ruttnam and Meg Hillier who all expressed reservations about the grant of £30m from the Department for Transport to the Garden Bridge project which had been unreservedly championed by George Osborne and former Prime Minister David Cameron.
Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey instigated this current report from the NAO on our behalf at the time of our public meeting in May. We are grateful to her and to Bishop's Ward councillors for their courage and determination in stopping this vanity project which would ruin one of the finest urban river walks in the world.
But the fight is not over yet: there are still huge hurdles for the GBT to overcome:
* the amount of private donations has gone down and costs risen to leave up to £62m - £75m funding gap, but that this was only revealed by them after investigation by Newsnight in August
* the GBT entered into pre-construction contracts before they had the funds, the land interest or an implementable planning permission, such that they required the DfT to underwrite this to the tune of £15m in the event of the project being cancelled
* the DfT refused to provide such an amount, limited the public liability to £9m, and left the GBT to find a private donor willing to underwrite the cancellation costs by £6m
* the Business Plan to run the bridge provided by the GBT is clearly rose-tinted and lop-sided, with 70% of income predicated on donations
* the 'guarantee' underwriting the £3.1m annual running costs, which is a condition of planning, has still not been issued since Sadiq became Mayor, and is unlikely to be issued anytime soon given his position that no more public funds be made available, and
* there is to be a full investigation into the procurement carried out by Dame Margaret Hodge.