Boris Johnson today denied any impropriety in the way a contract to transform the Royal Albert Docks into a new business district was awarded to Chinese firm ABP.
The Mayor announced the £1bn deal in May 2013 and predicted it would generate 6bn for the UK economy by creating a home for Asian businesses seeking to trade in the UK and Europe.
Last week Channel 4 news made a series of allegations concerning the deal, highlighting claimed links between the firm’s London lobbyist and donations made to the Conservative party.
The broadcaster also raised concerns that ABP and the Mayor’s promotions agency London & Partners had offices at the same address and that a member of London & Partners staff had gotten a job with ABP soon after leaving the agency.
All parties have denied any wrongdoing, with City Hall insisting the tender process was carried out in line with public sector procurement rules.
Appearing before London Assembly Members at Mayor’s Question Time today, Mr Johnson said a review commissioned in the wake of Channel 4’s approaches to his office had cleared the administration of any wrongdoing.
The review’s findings have been published on the City Hall website and confirm “detailed minutes were taken for all meetings” which were then submitted to Greater London Authority lawyers.
These meetings were all, according to the review, in compliance with a script drawn up by lawyers to ensure equal treatment of all bidders.
In addition, the review found that criteria to assess the bids “had a clear rationale consistent with the Mayor’s Development Strategy” and “were subject to legal review”.
The review gave the tendering process an Audit Assurance marking of “substantial” which the Mayor told AMs was “the highest” score possible.
He said he understood that the novelty of a Chinese developer being awarded such a large contract involving public land would raise questions from some, but cautioned AMs not to make unsubstantiated accusations of improper or illegal behaviour.
Addressing L&P’s involvement, Mr Johnson said the agency’s Chinese office had been used to seek assurances that ABP could deliver the tenants it promised but insisted that only GLA staff working at City Hall had been involved in awarding the contract.
London Assembly Members voted to carry out their own investigation after the Mayor undertook agreed to hand over relevant papers.
Speaking after this morning’s meeting, London Assembly Labour Group Leader Len Duvall AM said: “The Royal Albert Docks is an incredibly important development for London but the process for awarding the contract has to be transparent and seen to have been followed properly.
“Of course we want to attract foreign investment to London but the Mayor cannot sell off vast swathes of the capital and then go into lockdown when legitimate questions are raised about a seemingly murky process.”
Green party AM Darren Johnson said: “This is a 1 billion pound deal. It’s a huge development, it will have a huge impact and it was a huge decision. Londoners need to be reassured that nothing dodgy went on in the process. The Mayor will need to answer some important questions about how this deal was done.”