Garden Bridge fiasco ‘risks public trust in charities’

10 Apr 19

The failure of London’s Garden Bridge risks undermining public trust in charities, the Charity Commission has warned.

A total of £53m was spent by the charity responsible for the project but plans were eventually scrapped in August 2017.

A concluding report from the commission found that the Garden Bridge Trust, that was responsible for the project, fulfilled their legal duties in all areas except filing accounts on time. The charity’s accounts for the 2016-17 financial year were 143 days late.

Despite this, the commission found no mismanagement by the charity.

“Even though the commission finds that trustees complied with their legal obligations and that there was no mismanagement, the fact that £50m of public funds were spent by a charity and produced no demonstrable public benefit or impact represents a failure for charity which risks undermining public trust,” the report said.

The report, published Tuesday, added that although the charity’s 2017 accounts are compliant with the reporting framework (the Charities SORP) “the charity has not displayed the level of transparency and accountability that we would expect”.

It said that “mere compliance” with the SORP is not sufficient given the profile of the work being done.

Baroness Stowell, chair of the Charity Commission, said: “Londoners and taxpayers will legitimately feel angry and let down by the waste of millions of pounds of public money on a charitable project that was not delivered. I understand that anger and am clear that this represents a failure for charity that risks undermining public confidence in generally.”

The project was handed £19m and £24m from the Department for Transport and Transport for London, respectively. A further £11m worth of investment came from the private sector.

Tom Copley, Labour London Assembly member and chair of the Garden Bridge Working Group, said: “It is extremely disappointing that the Charity Commission has decided not to further investigate the role of the Garden Bridge Trustees for their part in the loss of millions of taxpayers’ money.

“We are clear that our enquiries into the myriad of failings surrounding the Garden Bridge will continue. As the commission points out, it’s now incumbent on the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and Transport for London to look deeper into how the trust handled public funds.”

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