Charity Commission urged to re-open case into Garden Bridge Trust

04 Mar 2019 News

A London Assembly Member has urged the Charity Commission to take another look at issues connected to the Garden Bridge Trust. 

In a letter to the Commission seen by Civil Society News, Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member, urged the Commission to re-examine the charity, which oversaw a failed infrastructure project in 2017.

The Commission said it was monitoring the charity's progress winding up and that it would publish a report with lessons for the wider sector. 

Pidgeon said: “I believe there is extensive new evidence that requires further scrutiny,” and added that not reopening the case “would be a complete abdication by the Charity Commission of its core responsibilities.”

The Garden Bridge project was a proposal for a pedestrian only bridge over the River Thames. It was halted in July 2016 after it was unable to raise enough money. It had been criticised by a Public Accounts Committee review (PAC) overseen by Margaret Hodge, who recommended that the plan be scrapped, estimating it would cost over £200m - far exceeding the original £60m estimate. The National Audit Office also investigated the Department for Transport’s £30m grant towards the project.

In February 2017, the Charity Commission concluded, after opening an operational compliance case in June 2016, that the trustees’ financial management of the charity complied with charity law. However, it also said that the trustees should make improvements to their annual reporting and that they could have assessed project risk better.

Pidgeon’s criticism comes after a sustained effort challenge the Commission’s decision in 2017 that the Trust was not responsible for the collapse of the infrastructure project, which lost some £37m of public money.

In October 2018, David Matthias QC said the Commission could face a judicial review for not bringing the trustees of the charity to account.

Pidgeon said: “It is truly incredible that over £40m of public money has been spent by the Garden Bridge Trust at such an early stage of the project. The fact that the project collapsed confirms that reckless decisions were made by the Garden Bridge Trust. Many people, including myself, believe public money has been scandalously wasted.

“The Charity Commission now needs to face up to the magnitude of this issue and recognise that the actions of the Garden Bridge Trust have had a detrimental impact on the reputation of the wider charity sector and future fundraising initiatives.”

Charity Commission statement

A Commission spokesperson said: “We understand why people are angry that large amounts of public funds have been expended on a project that has not come to fruition. The Commission has scrutinised the trustees’ conduct and management of the charity carefully and we continue to monitor the charity’s progress in winding up.

“We have undertaken our work in line with our regulatory remit, which is specific, and in the context of the garden bridge project, narrow: our role is to hold trustees to account against their charity law duties. We intend to publish a concluding report setting out our final position on the running of the Garden Bridge Trust, and setting out wider lessons that policy makers and others can draw from the failed project.”

 

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