Charity Commission backs Garden Bridge trustees

The Charity Commission has found that the Garden Bridge Trust 'acted properly' in awarding contracts with systems that 'appear to have been robust', following its investigation.

An artist's impresson of the Garden Bridge - Image: Arup
An artist's impresson of the Garden Bridge - Image: Arup

The charities regulator published its report today following an investigation into the Garden Bridge Trust, the charity established to oversee the project.

It got involved after concerns about the charity were raised which included potential conflicts of interest in its awarding of contracts, the level of due diligence it had carried out and whether it had the ability to carry out a project of such magnitude.

Willerby Landscapes won the contract for the landscape constuction of the bridge in 2015. Palmstead Nurseries and Deepdale Trees are growing the plants and trees. 

The report said: "The commission found that the trustees were meeting their duties and were acting in compliance with charity law."

The charity’s processes for awarding contracts "appear to have been robust", it says, and any potential conflicts of interest were managed properly.

The report said: "There was evidence of significant trustee engagement and some benchmarking of hourly rates and materials. However, trustees did not fully explore the opportunities to compare the critical paths of other comparable infrastructure projects and thus better enable themselves to assess project risk."

Regarding due diligence and the charity’s ability to carry out a project of that size, the commission "found that risks are regularly reviewed and assessed and the trustees have plans in place to mitigate those risks - particularly the risk of the project not proceeding.

"The Commission was satisfied with the systems and procedures for the management of the project."

According to the report, the trust said it had raised £129m of the £185m needed to build the bridge, with £69m coming in private funds and £60m in public funds.

The charity’s trustees warned last month in its annual accounts that the project was not a going concern and the scheme could substantially exceed the estimated costs.

The commission quizzed trustees on their high forward spend, and concluded that "the charity could account for spend to date and we saw evidence to confirm that it is actively managed."

On funding, structure and governance, the commission judged that the 12 trustees appear "to have the necessary skills and expertise for the efficient and effective administration of the charity" and provide "strategic leadership and direction".

"They are active, provide constructive challenge, are committed to the project’s success" the report said.

The charity could make improvements to its annual reporting, the report says, including providing more detail about the progress it has made and how the charity would meet its liabilities in the event of closure.

The Garden Bridge Trust welcomed the report. 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."

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has previously said that if the project does not go ahead an estimated £40m of public funding that has already been spent would be lost.

Khan ordered a review of the Garden Bridge project led by Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge in September to establish whether the project had so far provided value for money and criticised the lack of transparency around the scheme.

The Greater London Authority Oversight Committee's report into the design procurement of London's proposed Garden Bridge found, in March last year, that the procurement process for the design of the proposed Garden Bridge was "unfair", and the designers who lost out to bridge designer Thomas Heatherwick should be reimbursed for their time.

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