Transport for London has defended senior managers for accepting hospitality from a consultancy firm it has repeatedly re-appointed over a seven year period without going out to tender.
Over the period, an initial £122,000 contract to advise and support senior members of staff, including former Transport Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy and successor Mike Brown, has been regularly extended, netting the supplier a total of almost £2m.
TfL says the contractor, Panthea, provides “advice and support to the TfL leadership team for a number of major organisational change programmes to deliver a range of improvements and significant financial savings.”
As reported last November, the agency previously justified its decision not to hold a competitive re-tender on the basis that other bidders “would not have the existing knowledge of TfL,” or the same “expertise and familiarity or trusting relationship with the individual Directors in the Leadership team.”
The most recent extension was made in October 2017, when the decision not to seek alternative bids was justified on the grounds that “it would not be appropriate to go to tender as it may result in a loss of continuity in the development of individuals.”
Despite the agency citing existing familiarity with its processes and key staff as grounds not to seek rival bids, two senior executives were guests of the firm in January when they attended a meal described in Brown’s hospitality register as an opportunity to “build business relationships in [an] informal setting”.
The second executive present, communications chief Vernon Everitt, describes the meal as a “networking” event in his register.
The £150 meal at the Delfino restaurant in Mayfair’s Mount Street was Brown’s fifth acceptance of hospitality from the firm over the past four years.
Last year London Assembly members questioned the decision to repeatedly extend the contract.
Asked whether it was appropriate for executives to accept hospitality from a contractor which wasn’t having to tender against rivals for work, TfL provided a different description of the event to those in its executives’ registers.
A spokesperson for the agency said: “This was a working dinner as part of the services that Panthea provide to TfL, including their continued advice and support to the leadership team.
“This was to plan upcoming work that Panthea will carry out, and was held in an informal setting.
“The topics discussed included our organisational structure and improvement plans, our financial savings programme, and our challenges for the year ahead.”
In response to a Freedom of Information request, TfL recently claimed it had no central record of the number, or value, of contracts being re-let without rival bids being sought.