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Charity Commission: ‘no evidence’ of Garden Bridge trustee failings

London SE1 website team

A Government minister has told Parliament that the Charity Commission "has seen no evidence to date that the eventual failure of the [Garden Bridge] project was as a result of failings or omissions on the part of the trustees".

Last week the Government published written answers to two parliamentary questions tabled by Steve Reed, Labour MP for Croydon North and former leader of Lambeth Council, in the wake of the revelation that the final bill to the taxpayer for the failed footbridge over the Thames will be £43 million.

Mr Reed asked the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment he has made of the performance of the Charity Commission in fulfilling its duties in relation to the Garden Bridge Trust.

Junior minister Mims Davies replied to say that the Charity Commission's duty "is to look at the extent trustees are meeting their legal duties and whether charities are complying with charity law".

She added: "It is not in the regulatory remit of the commission to examine other issues such as the merits of a project or how it is funded."

Ms Davies said that the Charity Commission "has seen no evidence to date that the eventual failure of the project was as a result of failings or omissions on the part of the trustees of the Garden Bridge Trust, but is reviewing the final financial statements now available as part of its ongoing regulatory assessment.

"The commission has continued to hold the trust to account as necessary, such as when it was late in filing its accounts.

"The commission has confirmed that it expects the trust to publishing a full statement of total project costs. Once the commission has received those documents and, following analysis, it is comfortable that there are no further regulatory concerns, the charity will move to wind up."

In her evidence to Dame Margaret Hodge's investigation into the Garden Bridge, Joanna Lumley claimed that a Charity Commission representative had given a strong endorsement to the trust's governance when it probed the organisation in 2016.

Ms Lumley said: "He came to give a presentation and he just said, 'You are five star, top of the class ever of any charity.'"

She added that the Charity Commission representative had characterised the Garden Bridge Trust as "the best run charity I've ever seen".

Another question from Mr Reed, concerning discussions between the Charity Commission and the Garden Bridge Trust prior to its registration as a charity, was answered by the commission's chief executive Helen Stephenson.

Ms Stephenson said: "The commission's case files show that, prior to registration, two officials at the Charity Commission held a teleconference with the trustees and their representatives on 12 December 2013 to provide pre-registration advice.

"Prior to that teleconference, officials spoke to trust representatives by telephone to arrange that teleconference.

"It is not unusual for officials at the commission to provide pre-registration advice where applications to register are for particular high-profile or complex organisations.

"The application to register the Garden Bridge Trust was handled robustly in line with our normal procedures and the legal framework."

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