An internal Transport for London report has revealed that “vital” paperwork relating to the garden bridge was destroyed by officials despite knowing London Assembly members and others were asking questions about its design and procurement.
Plans for the bridge, which is to be built and overseen by a dedicated trust, were originally drawn up by TfL after Mayor Boris Johnson ordered his transport agency to support the scheme.
Although the Mayor originally said TfL’s role would be limited to initial feasibility and development work, the organisation is now committed to providing £30m of funding for its construction and has underwritten its maintenance costs in perpetuity.
A number of figures, including Caroline Pidgeon, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group on the London Assembly, have questioned the rationale behind public support for the bridge.
Ms Pidgeon has also raised concerns about TfL’s decision to award to the contract for developing the scheme to the Thomas Heatherwick Studio despite more established bridge builders tendering for the job.
Following questions from Pidgeon, former TfL commissioner Sir Peter Hendy confirmed that a full review and audit of the agency’s involvement would be conducted and the results published
That review has found that a lack of clarity about the organisation’s role in awarding contracts for the bridge meant “policy and procedure with regard to communication with bidders and tender evaluation were not fully complied with.”
It also reveals that “supporting documentation relating to the individual technical evaluation scores” assigned to bids was “disposed of” and was unavailable for review as part of the audit.
According to the report “the documentation was held in hard copy by the TfL Planning Project Manager until recently when, as a result of an office move and introduction of hot desking policy, it was disposed of.”
As a consequence of this, the audit’s authors had to rely on “interviews with those involved” when considering whether proper procedure was followed.
However the report says the decision to award “the first tender evaluation was carried out in accordance with TfL procedures” and there there is no evidence to suggest “that the final recommendations did not provide value for money from the winning bidders.”
Ms Pidgeon says these findings are “nonsensical” given the destruction of “vital documentation” which means the audit cannot be considered “thorough and forensic”
She commented: “While it rightly highlights a number of areas where the process for awarding contracts needs to improve the audit is ultimately incomplete due to TfL destroying vital records.
“It is staggering that despite serious questions about the evaluation scores for the tenders TfL thought there was nothing wrong in destroying vital documentation just before the audit was set to take place.”
Responding to Ms Pidgeon’s comments a TfL spokesperson said: “An extensive and thorough review of the procurement has been undertaken by a separate audit team and this has concluded that the procurement of designers for the Garden Bridge was acceptable in relation to the selection of bidders and there is no evidence the process did not provide value for money.
“As part of this thorough review, the audit has identified that some supporting documents, in the form of hand written notes from interviews with bidders were disposed of earlier this year as part of an office move – two years after the interviews were carried out and before the audit was requested.
“However, all scores from the evaluation process that was undertaken were properly recorded and filed appropriately in line with TfL procedures. The audit confirms that the “tender evaluation was carried out in accordance with TfL procedures”.
“The fact these hand written notes could not be found as part of the recent audit has absolutely no bearing on the findings of the audit.”