London Garden Bridge – Dodgy Procurement and Make Your Mind Up Time for Khan

We have reported more than once on the London Garden Bridge affair, under which a designer and a project management firm were appointed through what was either a very incompetent procurement process, or a "corrupt" process (or both).

The organisations appointed were the previously chosen firms of actress and general all-round menace to society Joanna Lumley, and of Boris Johnson, the then London Mayor. Then someone realised that a procurement process should really have been undertaken so the poor old procurement people at Transport for London (TfL) had to run a process and come up with the right answer i.e. select the firms that had already been chosen.

Now you might think that sounds a bit harsh, but as more and more information has come to light, there seem little doubt that was the case. We already knew that the evaluation process was flawed, the preferred firms were allowed to re-submit bids, one missed the deadline but their bid was accepted ... pretty much every rule of good practice public procurement was broken.

The latest news last month featured in the Architects’ Journal, where Will Hurst has been indefatigable in his investigations into the affair, and confirms that TfL were aware of Johnson’s preference for Heatherwick (the designer) before the Garden Bridge procurement exercise started. Now that does not mean in itself that the procurement was flawed or corrupt, but it all adds to the sense that this really wasn’t good practice from start to finish. As we said before, if any unsuccessful bidder had wanted to challenge the procurement decision, there is no doubt that a court would have found in their favour. As an example of a biased and therefore unfair procurement, it could hardly be bettered.

But it might not be over yet. The Observer reported on Sunday that “new London mayor, Sadiq Khan, is investigating his predecessor’s conduct over the procurement process for London’s planned £175m garden bridge”.

Khan has been vaguely positive about the scheme up to now, but in his new role, he has to sign a guarantee that the Greater London Authority will cover the running costs if necessary. That may make him hesitate – particularly as the Observer says “Khan’s comments coincide with fresh evidence of unease within Transport for London (TfL) over the project from the outset, with documents showing that its finance chief considered the bridge an extremely expensive proposal compared with other Thames crossings, such as the Millennium Bridge, which cost £22m”.

On a related note, we learnt recently that Andrew Quincey, the TfL Commercial (Procurement) Director, has recently left the organisation. We don't know whether the Garden Bridge affair had anything to do with that - probably not, would be our guess, but he can’t have enjoyed the criticism of procurement, given that (in our limited experience) he is a sensible, experienced and capable professional. So perhaps he felt uncomfortable that he was implicated in what was certainly not an admirable example of public procurement.

Anyway, there is still time to stop this vanity project, and make amends for a seriously dodgy procurement process.

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