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Garden Bridge construction procurement 'robust'

River Thames Garden Bridge

The Charity Commission has said that the Garden Bridge Trust’s processes for awarding contracts, including the main construction contract to a Bouygues JV, was ’robust’  in a new report. 

The regulator said its case examined the  governance of the charity that was set up to deliver the Thames Crossing. It specifically looked at whether the trustees were meeting their legal duties and whether the charity was complying with charity law. However, it did not examine areas such as the merits of the project or its funding.

The report follows procurement investigations into Transport for London’s (TfL) appointment of Arup to develop the technical design for the project. A previous report by TfL internal audit director Clive Walker found that Arup’s appointment ‘did not follow TfL policy’.

The Charity Commission’s case report Garden Bridge Trust said that it had found that the processes for awarding of contracts ’appeared to have been robust’. However, it said that the trustees did not fully explore the opportunities to compare the critical paths of other comparable infrastructure projects and therefore better enable itself to assess project risk.

It also said that it examined the management of conflict of interests within the charity and found that they were managed in line with the charity’s policy. It also confirmed that benefactors were not party to contracts made by the charity. The report covers the contracts awarded by the charity itself, including supplier contracts and the construction contract signed with Bouygues Travaux Publics and Cimolai SpA.

The Charity Commission chief operating officer David Holdsworth said: “We have been able to offer public assurance that the Garden Bridge Trust is meeting its obligations as a registered charity and that it has the proper financial controls in place. We are aware of the considerable public debate regarding this project. Our role is not to comment on the merits of the project but to assess concerns about its governance and ensure it is compliant with the legal framework for charities.

“This case shows that high profile charities can attract considerable public scrutiny, and the public rightly expect charities to be transparent and accountable. Having trustees in place with the right skills and experience is crucial for a charity to operate effectively.”

The Trust said it welcomed the findings of the commission into the charity and its governance.

Garden Bridge Trust chairman Lord Mervyn Davies said: “We are pleased this report recognises Trustees’ financial management and our strategic leadership. The Trustees take their responsibilities seriously.

“We welcome the fact that the Charity Commission has endorsed our approach and we are always looking to learn lessons and make improvements. The Garden Bridge is an inspirational project that involves the best of British design and innovation. It will be a landmark for central London and bring huge benefits to the capital and the UK. We now intend to draw a line in the sand about historical aspects of this project delivered by other parties and get on to make the Garden Bridge a reality.”

However, the future of the Garden Bridge in London may be in jeopardy after accounts published earlier this year by the trustees said costs could ‘substantially exceed’ the £185M estimate and that the trust set up to deliver it may no longer be a ’going concern’.

The Bridge which is due for completion in 2019 has already raised £129M, which includes £69M from private funds and £60M from public funds (from the Department for Transport and Transport for London (TfL) with £20M of TfL’s funding being treated as a loan).

However the project has £56M left to raise from private sources for the capital cost of the project.

The Trust said that the Charity Commission concluded in its case report that:

  • Trustees are meeting their duties and are acting in compliance with charity law
  • The arrangements to award contracts since the charity was formed are “robust”
  • There is no concern about the management of conflicts of interest – the benefactors are not party to the contracts awarded nor recipients of the contracts’ income
  • The Charity showed adequate financial management with a clear strategy and active budget management
  • Trustees provide strategic leadership and direction to the charity and its staff to help it deliver its purpose
  • Trustees demonstrated that they understand their roles and duties and responsibilities as trustees
  • The Commission saw evidence of robust and informed decision-making.

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