TfL should appoint independent experts to judge project costs after Silvertown

Transport for London (TfL) should appoint independent experts more regularly to ensure competitive tendering for its contracts, a report has warned.

The paper, published by the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) Oversight Committee, suggests that independent analysis should be carried out, particularly when there are a low number of bids for work – adding that this would ensure TfL gets “value for money” when handing out contracts.

Failure to include independent oversight could “undermine the GLA’s ability to get the best value for money” when fewer bids are received for high-value projects.

“[That is because] bidders have not had to compete with sufficient organisations to demonstrate that they are keeping costs low and are able to deliver the project on time and to specification,” the report adds.

The recommendation to seek more regular independent oversight was discussed in relation to the Silvertown Tunnel project, where a dispute over the value of the contract led to the losing bidder, Silver Thames Connect (STC), taking TfL to court.

STC argued it should have won the bid because its price was significantly lower than that of the appointed contractor, Riverlinx. The case delayed the contract award of the tunnel by two months – and it was only awarded after STC agreed in October 2019 to lift the procurement suspension that had been placed on TfL.

The report also recommended a more “robust and transparent” evaluation process to avoid future court cases, similar to the Silvertown Tunnel dispute.

Caroline Pidgeon, former chair of the Oversight Committee and Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly, said the GLA’s buying power should help create a “fairer, greener and more equitable city”.

“But,” she added, “we discovered that procurement arrangements were not being followed in all cases. This led to a significant amount of single-source tender arrangements, which may not have provided value for money.

“The scale of the expenditure makes this an area that is vital to get right, in order to deliver value for money for Londoners.”

TfL chief procurement officer Jonathan Patrick said TfL welcomed the report and will respond to the recommendations in due course.

“We regularly review our robust procurement procedures and assurance processes to ensure that we can learn from previous procurements and further ensure value for money as well as our commitment to transparency,” he added.

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