London Garden Bridge – Procurement and Funding To Be Reviewed

So Sadiq Khan, the relatively new Mayor of London, has set up an enquiry into the procurement and funding of London's proposed Garden Bridge. This follows a tenacious campaign from the Architects Journal (AJ) and Will Hurst, along with others, to dig into the funding of the project and the process that led to Thomas Heatherwick being appointed as the designer and Ove Arup as project manager for the bridges. “I’m clear there hasn’t been the necessary standard of transparency and openness around the garden bridge” said Khan.

The work will be led by Margaret Hodge, who chaired the Public Accounts Committee in the last government and gained a reputation for being a tough inquisitor. As well as looking at the procurement process, she will consider whether spending £185m on the footbridge is value for money. We expect a phone call from her shortly to get our input.  Well, maybe not, but we covered the events and the real procurement detail probably more than anyone else -  and were quoted by the AJ.

A previous internal audit review by Transport for London was actually not the whitewash that might have been expected. The report said that “did not find any evidence that would suggest that the final recommendations did not provide value for money from the winning bidders which enabled ex-mayor Boris Johnson to claim disingenuously that the report said everything was fine. But in fact it found major breaches of good procurement process.

Some of those showed very bad practice, as we said previously. From allowing a supplier to submit a bid after the formal deadline, to a lack of documentation, to changing the evaluation process once bids were received, to treating suppliers differently - as we said, if any unsuccessful bidder had challenged in court there is no doubt that they would have won their case.

The only rational conclusion, on the assumption that TfL staff are not that stupid, is that they were taking these steps in order to achieve a particular outcome in terms of the winning bidders. That seems by far the highest probability cause of the events, but whether Hodge can get to the bottom of that, we don't know. Who told the staff involved to reach the "right" decision? How did that instruction come down the line?

They are the interesting questions really. Hodge does not need to waste much time on her review of the procurement process if she reads the internal report and Spend Matters. But working out the power and the politics behind this is the real challenge.

Will the bridge survive? If Hodge finds that the procurement was flawed, but can't really put a financial loss against that - because there is no real counter-factual to compare it with - then what happens? That's another interesting question. But as the hoped-for private funding now seems in doubt, it may be that factor rather than dodgy procurement which finally kills off the unneeded Johnson and Joanna Lumley vanity project.

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