Transport for London spent four years refusing to publish its sponsorship contract with Barclays, claiming that to do so would jeopardise its ability to secure value for taxpayers in this and future deals.
As we later found out, the real reason TfL refused to publish was because managers had willingly signed-up to a secrecy clause in defiance of their obligations to answer to Londoners.
That decision has turned out to be a disaster for TfL, prompting a series of headlines about its lack of transparency and London Assembly reports into both its inconsistent sponsorship policy and lack of openness and accountability.
So thorough were those reports that TfL was forced to change how it operates, finding itself dragged by Mayoral promise into a new era of transparency, helpfulness and openness.
One of the commitments given as part of this enforced change of approach is the automatic publication of “any contract announced in a press release”.
Had this policy been in operation in July 2011 the Mayor and TfL would have had to back up claims their announcement that the Barclays deal had been extended by a further three years and additional £25m with a copy of the revised contract.
But in those days TfL still thought it acceptable to sign deals and then deny the public, Assembly and media access to the supporting documents.
By ending its sponsorship in 2015, the bank will pay less than £25m towards a scheme which is costing taxpayers at least £225m.
Far from safeguarding taxpayer value, TfL signed up to a deal which handed Barclays acres of tax-payer funded publicity and advertising right in the heart of the capital in return for a minuscule contribution.
The £2.5m of bonuses recently banked by TfL’s already well-paid management team have never look so undeserved.
Both the London Assembly and TfL’s board need to investigate the deal’s early termination as a matter of urgency and ensure Londoners can have confidence that future sponsors will pay their fair share and not, as Barclays have, seek to use public services to launder their tatty reputation on the cheap before walking away when the mood takes them.
For TfL board members this is a crucial test of whether they’re capable of providing effective oversight of the agency.
And for Assembly Members, who so often bemoan their lack of coverage and exposure, it’s the perfect opportunity to launch a topical inquiry into a development which has generated national and international headlines.