Council ignores suggestion to make majority of Trust members independent
Victoria Hall at night. Picture: Friends of Victoria Hall
Decision-making for Victoria Hall could in future be made by a trust made up of five councillors and three independent members, it has been recommended.
Members of Ealing Council’s General Purposes Committee, which currently acts as trustees for Victoria Hall Trust, agreed to recommend the move to full council in March, after the Charity Commission demanded for arrangements to be made to manage conflict of interest.
The move comes as the deadline looms to agree conditions with the Charity Commission on how the trust can be best protected through the town hall sell-off to hotel developer MastCraft.
In a letter on 19 January, the charity watchdog urged for at least three independent members to be included, and “possibly three to six councillors” with a clear declaration of interest and “loyalty” requirement. And it added, “Would the trustee perhaps even consider a majority independent member committee to provide clear management of conflict?”
In the meeting on 16 February, Councillor Jon Ball suggested for the committee to be made up of five independent members and three councillors instead, but the majority voted against this.
He said, “My main point really in the interest of good independent governance, there ought to be a majority of independents rather than a minority.”
The committee also agreed to the methodology of how the premium, project costs and rent would be shared between the trust and the council, but that there could still be flexibility on how the final numbers could be agreed.
The chair of the charity Friends of Victoria Hall, Roger Green, spoke against the moves in the meeting, warning the documents are “incomplete, inconsistent and confusing”, and “not at all” in the interest of the trust and its beneficiaries, the people of Ealing.
Ahead of the meeting he described early plans aimed at addressing conflict of interest between the council and the trust as “wholly inadequate”.
And speaking in the meeting objecting to cost and income split, he said: “When it comes to charging the trust for its share of town hall costs, the council says it should pay 20.17% of these costs, as can be seen in the accounts.
“But when it comes to the council paying the trust, its share from the hotel deal is only 17.66%…
“You should not accept the proposed bases for calculating cost and premium apportionments as they are over-complex and incorrect since the extent of the Trust’s property continues to be wrongly assessed.”
According to the plans, the Victoria Hall trust would also receive 10.4 per cent of the ongoing rental income, around £26,000 a year.
But Mr Green added, “Appendix 5 of the report you’ve been presented with for this meeting asserts that the Trust property is 17.66 per cent of the site.
“But the detailed survey produced in 1995 confirms our view that the true figure is over 20 per cent.
“As for the transaction costs, you’re being asked to agree that the trust would get 17.66 per cent of the payout and yet shoulder 50 per cent of the transaction costs.”
The committee agreed to the recommendations ahead of a 2 April deadline, which if a full agreement with the Charity Commission is not reached by then the formal consultation must be re-started and “significantly delay” the plans to redevelop the town hall.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
February 17, 2021