Harringay online

Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

The following was reported in the Journal last week and I haven't got round to posting it till now:


Alexandra Park survey flops with ‘worringly low’ response


A web survey for visitors to voice their views on Alexandra Park picked up just 11 replies.

Yet park bosses admitted the dire response to the survey on the state of the park’s maintenance was still the best they have had in three years.

The head of the Alexandra Palace and Park Board called the poor response “worryingly low” despite it being distributed to hundreds of residents.

The customer survey was sent out to all 38 members of the palace and park’s advisory and consultative committees, appealing for them to forward it to other residents’ groups in the area.

Board chairman Councillor Matt Cooke said at a board meeting at the Palace on Tuesday, June 21: “I think it’s a worryingly low response. Things like this are a fantastic opportunity to promote the work that we do to engage local residents.

“It’s disturbing that only 11 members of these committees responded, let alone residents.”

He urged the Palace to put the survey on the venue’s website in a bid to have it seen by a wider audience.

Park manager Mark Evison said: “Unfortunately it was a very low turn out but the responses that we did get were that the park was satisfactory or very good.”

He later added: “This is the highest response we have had in three years.”



Have I got that right? Is Evison saying that 11 is the highest response in three years? Pity.

It's a shame they didn't send us a link. According to the Journal's own figures we got a good deal more that twice the number of online visitors as the Journal in Haringey. I can't promise, we'd fill up their inbox, but I hope we could help add to the mix.

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Chris: many thanks for all your interesting, relevant questions. I try to answer below:

So it was bought for the public by the Council in order to protect it against commercial interests, otherwise it would have been knocked down and covered in houses by now, wouldn't it?
Yes and for the last 20 years, including the present day, the current trustee (a council) has been trying to return it in whole or in part, to wholly commercial interests, though possibly not housing.

I wonder how best to grow a public asset and say again, surely we need to help fix the system, not abandon it? I write this to help develop my thinking.
It is a public asset, but the charitable side has largely been ignored by the current Trustee. If ‘fixing’ "the system" means keeping the local council as sole Trustee, then that is a triumph of hope over experience. With due respect, are you aware of what has gone on in our Charity in the last 30 years? Do you know the extent of the mismanagement? These are not entirely rhetorical questions and its not difficult to find the consistent record of waste, bungling and foolishness – for 30 (thirty) years.

You seem to be agreeing that Councillors do have the final say (they can choose to ignore a recommendation) but imply that they are no good at the job.
Councillors have the final say – in theory. This assumes several things: that they are interested, knowledgeable and have the facts in front of them. This last point was the one on which the previous council leader Charles Adge was in March, Found to have Breached the councillor code of conduct, following my Complaint and he's currently suspended for four months, after bringing the council into disrepute with his conduct over the attempted sale of AP.

This is exactly how Central Government works, isn't it? Civil Servants do most of the 'work', overseen by politicians who can appear totally unsuited to the job when measured by results and often 'rubber stamp'.
Whether or not central government works like the Trust Board is not really the point. I think another assumption here, is that expert, devoted council employees of integrity make up for the possible lack of interest of councillors on the Board. Rubber stamping of poor policies by poor governors lead to those very policies going forward.

Are you saying that Councillors should not be given this sort of power, or that they don't have any? Are you saying the Councillors are lazy or incompetent?
It is one thing for councillors to have power; another thing to consider the available pool of talent. Amongst other things, I say councillors have enough to do with their Wards and regular council business, without trying to supervise a Charitable Trust and a huge building, for which none are qualified or competent. The councillors rotate through the council committee known as the “Trust Board” on a Buggins Turn basis.

You seem to be implicitly agree that, given that the Trust exists and only has Councillors on the Board, it's fair that the mix reflects that of the full Council - i.e the party in power has the majority of Board members.
The Trust Board mix does reflect the council – that's part of the problem! That is not in dispute, or the point. If the mix were a perfect reflection of political representation, it does not follow that any of them are capable of running a big Charitable Trust.

2) the Council is unable to run a Charitable Trust because of the conflict of interest between the aims of the Trust and the aims of the Council. Does this apply to pretty much all the Trusts run by the Council?

I am not aware of any other Trusts run by the council. The situation is an anomaly.

 

Should Councils be able to be run Charitable Trusts on our behalf or should that idea be abandoned? 

IMO, the idea should be abandoned as it is now discredited. The Charity Commission’s policy now is not to approve of new municipal trusts because of conflicts of interest

As abandoning this would overturn centuries of practice, does it need a much stronger reason for a revolution?

No, the Charity Commission recognizes the inherent difficulties. And a court decision in the last year or two involving a council-trust also shows the writing on the wall for this severely compromised form of administration.

 

Are you in fact expressing absolutely no confidence in the ability of Councillors to fairly represent us in important matters of public assets, and further that they are, in this respect, incompetent?

In respect of this Trust, with which I'm familiar, yes. Please check the recent history of our Trust.

Are you also saying that Council Officials are incompetent as it's they who actually do the work, or are you saying that, because Councillors do not direct them properly, Council Officials are headless chickens wasting our assets?
With exceptions, yes. In practice its both, with the bulk of responsibility on those who govern. The Trustee should not comprise a majority of councillors, nor should its employees be council staff. Our charity has existed in a grey area in the past in which all sorts of shenanigans went on.

3) The undischarged debt of circa £41m is largely bogus. – I'm sure you don't mean to make such a serious allegation of financial misconduct as, from what you wrote about rubber stamping, you are accusing the Chief Financial Officer - a civil servant with, presumably, no personal interest. Why would a CFO allow such a situation?
I certainly do mean to make that allegation. The debt is largely bogus. The allegation is not as novel or as sensational as you seem to think and nowhere near as unsupported as you suspect. Can I respectfully refer you to the 1996 Letter of the Treasury Solicitor on this very subject? Yes, I mean The Treasury Solicitor. The "debt” is written off, but keeps rising, but any or all of it could be discharged with the stroke of a pen. Given that Haringey is responsible for all of it (it is a debt they owe to themselves) they will eventually choose to do this, but it requires leadership).

Provided the Council is willing to wait to be repaid, does it not have the effect of a long term advantageous loan to the Palace of the People?
The debt is written off. But that it is undischarged, has acted as a self-imposed planning-blight. It’s existence has helped to frustrate most of the council’s botched sale attempts.

Is that not a good thing or would you rather the banks were in charge? If independent trustees were able to obtain a loan on such good terms, would you condemn them for it?
These sums are only loans if you adopt the distorted council-thinking. These “loans” are in fact council-controlled, councillor-authorised spending. Often, overspending. They are no more loans than the spending on rubbish collection in Haringey is a loan and the rubbish collectors owe millions to the council! Our Trust is 100% council-controlled. The AP Trading Company is wholly owned by the council and almost 100% controlled by the council.

Independent trustees – with expertise, interest and integrity – Can you give any further specifics on who we would get? Are you talking, for example, about Lord Sugar, Lord Archer or Lord Foster? Why would any of them be motivated to get involved?
You are quite right about the current keenness of experts to get involved – given the current state of affairs. Haringey’s reputation goes before it no one in their right minds would want to get involved – with Haringey still in control. The latest council-inspired scheme (to sell off two-thirds to a music operator) is likely to fail. I fear we are headed to a Firoka situation, with the council offering unlimited sweetners to get a developer interested.

Are you confident that these people will be able to be appointed by Councillors already on the Board, or do you think someone else should appoint them? Should they have voting rights?
No, not confident. The local council has limited ability and knowledge for this work. Such appointments should be made at national level and selected from a larger pool of talent. Not only should experts have voting rights, they should have majority control! The record of our local council as stewards for our Charity has been one of waste and disaster – not just for the last 30 weeks, but for 30 years.

I ask all this because I really think that the situation can be improved, but I'm not sure what improvements would actually work, let alone how to bring them about.
Never stop asking questions! The situation can be improved but it involves a change of heart of the local council who must face up to the fact that their stewardship has not been a success. It’s not the current incumbents on the Board who brought about this situation. The original mistake was made 30 years ago when total control was awarded to a single, skint, local council.


I think that StrawCat has responded well enough to your last point.

Any more comments or questions Chris?!

Thanks to Clive, Chris and Straw Cat for this lengthy yet highly informative discussion. I would like us all to cut our way out of the endless brambles that surround this building and aim for something that looks like a solution. I would like to propose that the only way for us to start to feel like we own this building and can do something with it is to act as a single voice. I would like the many consultative, statutory and stakeholder groups to speak through one body. That single body is non political and open to all. 

 

This single umbrella group, united in focus, can operate as a force for positive regeneration. This unified focus being to bring the disused areas of the building back to life. If you consider the vast numbers of people who would love to be involved in some community spirit at Alexandra Palace, it is not impossible to imagine that a unified positive vision would attract enough support to enable the project to raise money.

 

It would raise money through holding large music events, like those organised by All Tomorrow's Parties and, in addition, launching a crowd funding scheme. I don't doubt that the £200,000 needed to bring the theatre back into a useable condition could be raised by crowd funding alone.

 

I am hopeful that, in times of crisis, our old, stuffy institutions will be forced to invent new ways of attracting public support. Space being the final frontier, for it is via the intelligent mobilising of wasted space that we can support ourselves better, creating new funding streams and growing a stronger community at the same time. See the great work of the embryonic Unlibrary - based in Crouch End library - for an example of how donated space forges connections between groups from which new opportunity can grow.

 

Oh, and if you wanna see how one event is starting to create a buzz on the Vintage scene at Alexandra palace then come along to the next Cakewalk Revival: July 17th. The event is making use of the wasted space of the Palm Court to bring new custom to the bar and new event organisers are already keen to run more vintage themed community events at the palace. 

 

I am keen to get this rolling and would love to hear what people think? Any ideas?

I BELIEVE that underlying all the myriad minor problems and the many medium-sized problems is the chronic issue of governance. The current Trustee has controlled our Palace for 30 years. The problems of the un-reformed council committee known as Alexandra Palace "Trust Board" may be summarised thus:


  • Lack of continuity and long-term vision
  • High turnover of chair and Board members
  • Highly politicised decision making
  • Lack of non-political/independent perspectives
  • Risk of commericially senstive papers in the public domain
  • Skill set of Board limited
  • Structure ineffective and ambiguous
  • Questions over 'going concern' status
  • Lack of trust and high levels of scrutiny


This is not my list!

It appears in a (public) report presented to the Board on 2 March 2010, entitled The Way Ahead – Governance Review and Vision. 

Note the date. This list was derived from the "Trustees' Away Day" and the "Stakeholder Forum" and were presented as the main barriers to success for creating a sustainable venue for future generations.

While I wouldn't agree with every item on the list, it nonetheless represents perhaps the most honest appraisal of the chronic issues I have seen emanating from either the Board or a Board employee I have seen. There might have been added,

  • fundamental conflict of interest between Duty to the Council and Duty to our Trust

 

The list was complied 15 months ago. The lack of action, result or conclusion speaks for itself. The fundamental problems have long been known but there is no action that is meaningful. In the wake of the first Walklate Report, the then general manager prepared a municipal action plan. But it meant nothing, like so much else of the tonnes of paperwork this quango generates.

And yet, so many ordinary people actually care about this big building on our skyline.

Good luck with the Theatre, Sally.

 

 

I do agree with you Clive.

 

Did you hear anything about Haringey Council suggesting that the building is given to The National Trust? I can't think of a better positioned non political group to carry a publicly owned asset. Can you?

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