|Friends Group Says Victoria Hall Could Be 'Lost to the Community'|
Believes Charity Commission scheme fails to address concerns
Victoria Hall Trust could be “lost to the community” under a new scheme drawn up by the Charity Commission, campaigners have warned.
Campaign group the Friends of Victoria Hall (FOVH) are unhappy with a new document from the charity watchdog which sets out how the historic hall should be governed under its transfer to hotel developer MastCraft in the town hall sell-off.
But they say it will effectively give Ealing Council control of the charity’s property, fails to address how conflict of interest arising from trustees, who are also councillors, should be managed, and doesn’t state how much the Trust should be paid in return for giving up its property.
According to the scheme, it accepts the council’s recommendation of the advisory committee to be made up of three independent members, and up to five elected councillors from Ealing Council.
It adds if a decision is needed where there is a potential conflict of loyalty between the council and charity’s interests, the decision should be made by independent members only.
FOVH chair Roger Green said: “The Victoria Hall accounts for more than 20 per cent of Ealing Town and is central Ealing’s largest community space. It doesn’t belong to the council, so in 2019 it applied to the Charity Commission to be allowed to take control of the Trust that owns it.
“The Charity Commission has recently published a ‘scheme’ which would change the rules of the Victoria Hall Trust to allow that to happen…
“The local community has been ill-served by the Commission…One wonders whether the Commission is there to represent the beneficiaries of charities – in this case the people of Ealing — or those of powerful local politicians and commercial interests.”
The scheme is dated from March 12, but due to technical errors was only published on the Charity Commission’s website on March 22, which campaigners have also blasted for “eating in” to the “precious” 42 days allowed for appeals against the changes.
A big issue of concern has been around the protected conditions or rates community groups will to pay to use the hall once it is in the hands of MastCraft, referred to as the ‘Community Use Protocol’.
But the FOVH flag it is unclear what is being proposed with no publicly available final version of what will be offered.
“The details will be agreed behind closed doors by the council and its boutique hotel partner. Consequently, local people won’t have any say in the final agreement of when or if they can use the Hall,” Mr Green added.
“The Friends of the Victoria Hall is taking legal advice about mounting a challenge to the new scheme.”
An Ealing Council spokesperson said: “Ealing Town Hall remains the civic heart of the borough. The deal that leases the town hall to Mastcraft secures the future of Victoria Hall as a community asset, available to the community at discounted rates.
“Following extensive dialogue between the Victoria Hall Trust and the Charity Commission, the Commission have confirmed their agreement to publish a scheme which regularises the Victoria Hall Trust. The scheme sets out the framework for the future operation of the Trust and includes provisions for the management of conflict of interest.
“Full Council approved changes to the make-up of the Victoria Hall Trust which includes appointing a third independent trustee to join the two independent trustees already appointed.
“Following advertisement, shortlisting and interview will take place after the Easter period and, subject to the recommendation of the recruitment panel, it is expected that the successful candidate will be formally appointed at full council on 27 April.”
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission explained how it approved this scheme this year after calling for stronger protections in April 2020.
They said, “Before finalising the scheme, we required stronger protections for the charity than were present in the original plans, including around community access to the hall, and the management of conflicts of interests.
“Following further engagement with the trustee this year, the Commission found the legal test for making the scheme had now been met. We were satisfied the charity had complied with the Commission’s previous recommendations, ensuring the charity and its interests are now better protected.”
To view the scheme click here.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
April 7, 2021