The Garden Bridge Loses Treasury Support

As fans of the classic TV shows Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister know well, understanding the meaning behind senior civil servants’ words requires a deep understanding of protocol as well as linguistic insight. So with my experience as a senior civil servant personally and adviser to many others, it was interesting to see the latest news on the London Garden Bridge. The proposed construction has been controversial from the start, including a deeply dodgy procurement process (which we reported on here).

Tom Scholar, permanent secretary to the Treasury and a man with a brain the size of two planets, wrote a letter in response to Meg Hillier, the Labour MP who chairs the influential public accounts committee (PAC). He said the Garden Bridge Trust, which is behind the project, had not yet got planning consents, faced a funding shortfall and had already spent £22.5m of public money on pre-construction work.

So we thought we would give you a translation of his careful words – actually, he was somewhat more forthright than such folk often are! (See here for a classic Yes Prime Minister explanation of how top civil servants treat words and truth ...)

Anyway, back to the Garden Bridge.

This suggests that the overall case for the project is weaker today than it was in 2014,” wrote Scholar.

Translation – “my goodness, how could anyone even think these numbers stack up? Are they mad? If it was dodgy in 2014, it is positively ridiculous now. The worst business case I’ve seen since Hinkley Point. Oh, hang on a minute…”

Looking ahead, there are clearly issues still to be addressed, given the need to raise sufficient private funding and secure planning consents on the South Bank,” he wrote.

Translation – “look, the chance of this lot getting funding and planning permission is slim and getting slimmer. There's more chance of an amicable Brexit settlement with the EU”.

Scholar concluded that the business case was very dependent on a series of assumptions, while there was “some risk of double counting” over certain benefits.

“I’ve seen people claiming 2+2=5 but really, this is 2+2= 500”.

Ill-conceived, shakily financed, dodgily procured, environmentally  unsound, elitist and unnecessary - really, someone just needs to grab the bridge and this project firmly by its foundations and chuck it metaphorically in the Thames before any more public money is wasted.

Voices (2)

  1. Andy Harrington:

    That this project is still alive is testament to how staggeringly self-serving, corrupt and/or incompetent our gatekeepers of public money are. That Khan reputedly recently said ‘It will now cost us more if we don’t build it’, is, if true, also testament to how staggeringly innumerate Barristers and Mayors can be.

    Once propaganda is removed, even before looking at the financials and issues of reputational damage, the ‘net present utility’ of the area is greater if the bridge is never constructed, due to how it would harm both bankside environments and the views from Warterloo Bridge. Add in the financials and one despairs at how we have got this far.

    Whilst I have always had a low opinion of Boris and, since the B of the Bang and an Olympic Flame visible only to people inside the main stadium, have found Heatherwick’s Trumpian claims about his abysmal works tiresome, I am now sad to say that ARUP, a British firm I once held in high esteem, through its association with this project, has revealed terrible judgement and will likely miss out on much future business as a result.

  2. Robin Ballance:

    What a great article.
    It brings to light the original agreement was Pari Passu and, therefore, 50% should have been found from private money which it hasn’t, so already the Garden Bridge Trust is running at a loss.
    When you only have the whisper of a promise on rice paper for donations (with everyone now running for the hills on this project) and your foundations are similarly as weak, then maybe it’s time to bring the curtain down. After all, it seems that Joanna Lumley and Heatherwick have now walked away and are now focussing on new projects…

Discuss this:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *