The Garden Bridge project was a ‘failure for charity’ that risks undermining public trust, the Charity Commission has said in its concluding report on the Garden Bridge Trust.
In the report, it is critical of the charity’s approach to transparency and accountability, and sets out wider lessons for charities, the Commission itself and those making public policy decisions that involve charities. However, it states that the trustees of the charity fulfilled their legal duties in their decision making and that the charity was not mismanaged.
The report on the Garden Bridge Trust acknowledges that over £50m of public funds were spent by a charity without producing demonstrable public benefit, and concludes that this represents “a failure for charity” which risks undermining public trust.
The report sets out a number of lessons from the case, including:
- The report makes clear that the legal minimum set out in the accounting framework should be viewed as a minimum, not an aspiration
- The Commission advises that policy makers think very carefully before setting up an entirely new charity to deliver a singular public project or purpose, and considers it “unlikely that the public would expect risks that are inherent in a major public infrastructure project to be outsourced to such a charity.”
- The Commission will update its approach when it receives applications from charities established for the sole purpose of delivering a publicly funded infrastructure project.
- Trustees of charities that receive public funds to deliver public services or projects should demonstrate scrupulous accountability and a spirit of transparency and openness to the public.
The regulator says it will engage with those seeking to establish charity wholly or mainly to deliver a publicly funded project to ensure they understand the consequences and responsibilities that follow, including the need to meet the public’s expectations around transparency and financial stewardship.
Baroness Stowell, Chair of the Charity Commission, commented:
“Londoners and taxpayers will legitimately feel angry and let down by the waste of millions of pounds of public money on a charitable project that was not delivered. I understand that anger and am clear that this represents a failure for charity that risks undermining public confidence in charities generally.
“While the charity was not mismanaged, the public would also expect, as I do, that the right lessons are learnt from this case, so that we don’t see a similar failure arising in future.”
However, the Commission’s conclusion met with criticism from the sector on social media, including from the Institute of Fundraising’s Daniel Fluskey, and DSC’s Debra Allcock Tyler who pointed to the differences between this project and the work and operations of other charities, while the lack of sanctions for the Trustees was also highlighted:
I think this is really unfortunate. The garden bridge is a million miles away from the thousands of charities that work across the country which people support and whose services they use. Really frustrating. https://t.co/npIg0dPqXM
— Daniel Fluskey (@danielfluskey) April 9, 2019
What utter nonsense! Where is the evidence that public trust was dented? Have people stopped donating to their favourite causes? Stopped volunteering for them? Shit happens. There were mistakies – doozies – but the public is not stupid about charities! https://t.co/PvV5cWZ2JD
— Debra Allcock Tyler (@DebAllcockTyler) April 9, 2019
NEW: Charity Commission says Garden Bridge debacle was a failure for the charitable sector which "which risks undermining public trust". But reiterates: no sanction for trustees, despite £50m spent on nothing.https://t.co/VLgDgbShbH
— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) April 9, 2019
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