Garden Bridge: Funding

Part of Forensic Science Regulator Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:53 pm on 15th March 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport), Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 2:53 pm, 15th March 2019

I have mentioned investigations by the London Assembly, the National Audit Office and the Charity Commission, which clearly were not whitewashes. These are independent bodies. The hon. Lady has mentioned mates’ rates and closed groups, but the head of the Garden Bridge Trust was a former Labour Minister, now Labour peer, who was dealing with a Conservative Mayor of London. I do not view this as some closed, chummy, “old school tie” thing, which is what the hon. Lady is suggesting. I do not think the facts are remotely like that.

There has never been any secret about the investigations, and the fact that they have taken place demonstrates the robust scrutiny that has applied to this project to ensure that it was run properly and that we got the best value for taxpayers’ money. It is because of those inquiries that I do not think it necessary to have a new inquiry.

The Department for Transport continues to scrutinise the use of public money in spending decisions robustly. Clear safeguards were included in the garden bridge project on how and when the money could be spent to limit expenditure should the project fail. The hon. Lady asks about lessons learned, which are important for anyone who has responsibility for public finances. It is quite a difficult question, because this is such an individual project, but there is the principle of control of money. The Department has, for example, changed the way it handles rail development projects by introducing the rail network enhancements pipeline—the RNEP process—to ensure that projects cannot proceed to the next level of development until it is clear what the funding implications are. There is always, then, this iterative process of review and of lessons being learned from experience and new developments. Of course we learn lessons.

There are also processes for sharing good practice. There is a transport efficiency project whereby different parts of the Department share best practice to see whether lessons can be learned in the development of rail that could be applied to road, and vice versa. I would caution the hon. Lady, therefore, about saying that no lessons have been learned. Learning lessons is an existing part of standard DFT procedure and—I would hope—of every other Department and public body.

As the hon. Lady may be aware, the sum spent on cancellation liabilities will be significantly less than the £9 million made available, meaning that more of the funding originally allocated can be returned to the Department to be spent on other transport projects.

In conclusion, I understand the concerns raised by the hon. Lady and others who have spoken today and previously and I recognise it is unfortunate that public money has been spent without the project coming to fruition, but despite people’s best efforts projects sometimes do not achieve their potential. The decision to support the project was taken with the view that it would be successful. It did not fail to capture the public imagination. It might have polarised it, but some clearly saw how it could enhance an already magnificent cityscape.

My Department will continue to scrutinise funding decisions and make sure we continue to deliver value for taxpayers. That is a regular part of all that we do. It has not been compromised by this project and will remain a part of all our future project management.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.