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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

THE CEO of Alexandra Palace of the last few years (Duncan Wilson), is to depart for Historic England.

As you'd expect of course, this news appears in Horticulture Week.

Duncan will be a hard act to follow!

Tags for Forum Posts: Alexandra Palace, CEO, Duncan Wilson, Historic England

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Real shame, Duncan was finally, finally, turning  Ally Pally into a profit making business, and even, I believe,paying back the loan that at the moment is serviced from our council tax.

That wouldn't be a very good idea. Ally Pally is a charity. Charities don't make profits for shareholders. They give benefits to communities. If AP were doing that I wouldn't begrudge it from my  tax.

Charities aren't that desirable in some circumstances - there are so many abusing the system that big changes have been called for into what a charity is and is not allowed to do in order to claim the big subsidy we are giving them all - they pay no tax.

I for one don't want to pay the subsidy given this way to private schools - it seems wrong to me. There is some talk that private schools be forced to pay tax because they bring no public benefit.

This charity is in debt - just after it was given Ally Pally, a big fire (no fault of Haringey) created a huge bill for repairs and left much of it derelict. Ally Pally has regularly burned down during it's history. 

The charity is managed by a group of Councillors. They employ the CEO and staff through a limited company - pretty much standard practice.

The structure is one where all profits can be returned to the Council, but there are unlikely to be any profits for a long time as the debt is so large - that'll need to be paid off first.

When there are profits, people might very well prefer if those profits were spent on Ally Pally itself, so it might never produce a financial bonus.

It's a complex business governing any public asset  - this one has to survive in the real world in a recession in a borough with huge inequality, so that should surely inform decision-making, shouldn't it?  How to contrast that with what some regard as the absolutely disastrous decision to irrevocably destroy some of it's BBC heritage in the name of profit.

People seem to think they can take one cursory glance at the stuff the Council do and, using some overarching 'principle' they pluck out of their back pockets, make a grand, sweeping decision as to whether it's a worthy of approval or contempt.  When decisions are made, the controversial ones often put the Council between a rock and a hard place - would you endorse the BBC destruction or not? Whatever is done, some will use it to feed their blind prejudice that the Council is 'failing'.  Even in these days of Rotheram (which has truly failed) people think that our Council is rubbish with no real grounds to do so. 

No wonder nobody cares what most people think - people are lazy in this respect and thus get the Council they deserve. Why should they pay any attention to a 'Daily Mail/UKIP' approach? 

I don't think so, Peter. Why not ask the Council how much the Council has subsidised Ally Pally each year over the past few years.

Alan, the Council used to be proud of AP.and I think you overlook that the Council is the Trustee.

It's possible to claim that one owes money to oneself, but it doesn't get us far or make much sense. In particular, the (bogus) debt is reasonably a real concern to the kind of investment partners that the Council seeks: for the all-important hotel, for example.

It's generally accepted that AP needs to become more self-supporting, but in the meantime, your question doesn't make much more sense than to say, how much the Council has subsidised Schools/Police/Roads each year over the past few years?

Legally it's two separate bodies, Clive.  If it was a single body - Haringey Council - then decisions about its funding could be taken very simply by the Council. And the Council could take these decisions in exactly the same way that it has and will about other buildings and properties.

Councils have become trustees of charities elsewhere and usual legal position is that a Council as Trustee is not liable for the debts of the charity; but nor can it benefit from the charity's assets and surplus income. Which is why the legal device of a mechanism of a loan was adopted.

In the case of Ally Pally Charity the initial legal advice many years ago  was that the Council was in the same position of any other Charity Trustee and could not use the Council's General Funds to underwrite overspends on the charity. However subsequent legal advice was that not only can the Council do this, but that it must.

So we have - in effect - an institution which can go to Haringey taxpayers for cash regardless of what other claims there are on the Council's shrinking finances.

I assumed you would have immersed yourself in this problem and have understood the implications. Weren't you given a folder with all the key documents? If not Cllr Bob Hare will have one.

Every other activity the Council does, it could reduce, privatise, sell off or close down altogether.  That would include building on the Council-owned land or leasing or selling it. In other words, all the things the KoberTories are now doing.

But the Ally Pally - for many years largely a loss-making exhibition business - is legally protected and privileged in a way almost no other part of any local council is protected.

Which has an interesting consequence if the current "Austerity" policies are pursued by the next Government. We could reach a point where parks, schools and most other services are privatised; where the libraries are shrunk to vanishing point; and many services will be cut completely. With those remaining tiny and residual.

Except the Ally Pally.

Alan I accept that these are different words. However, are you saying that the Trustee is not the Council? Or that the Council is not the Trustee? Or that Local Government legislation trumps laws relating to Trust and Charity?

(1985 Act attached – there's no need to see beyond page 3 that contains definitions)

You are quite right that the legal advice has varied over the years, although the true legal position has yet to be established in Court.

The degree of independence has caused much difficulty since 1980, which artificial barriers have been erected and dismantled. 

Which is why the legal device of a mechanism of a loan was adopted.

I'm not sure why you say "mechanism", but it does hint that this so-called "loan" is anything but straightforward (you'll know about the previous attempts by the Council to gain indemnification).

I don't expect you to know at which Board meeting the Trustees formally agreed that this was a "loan". However, perhaps you can confirm that the Trust Board did formally agree that the monies in question were a loan?

My understanding is that the monies in question vary every night: are you saying that the extent of a bank overdraft is agreed or re-agreed as a "loan" on a daily basis?

Finally, are the AP Trustees subject to the legal responsibility of a "Trustee" in the ordinary meaning of the word?

Attachments:

It's grossly unhelpful to people reading about the Alexandra Palace to nit-pick and obfuscate. E.g. scoffing at the idea that a loan means it has to be re-agreed on a daily basis. (Any more than if you have a bank loan it's re-agreed daily. Though, of course the interest owed does change on a daily basis.)

Nor have I said that the Council is not a trustee. I'm saying that Haringey Council is NOT not the Charity and vice versa. There are two different and separate legal bodies. (Similar to two companies with the same or overlapping directors.)

As a councillor your task is not to score points. I thought we'd gone well beyond that stage. You have a responsibility to explain to ordinary residents in clear understandable terms how the Ally Pally is not the Council. And why the taxpayers of Haringey appear to be asked every year to set aside money to subsidise a loss-making charity whose main activity is an exhibition business.

I assumed that you have been briefed on the legal and practical position.  Sometimes, Clive, things are the way they are and not how we'd ideally like them to be.

Where there is a conflict of interest, do you think that the first duty of the Members of the Trust Board is to the Trust or to the Council?

The mistake often made with AP is that Haringey Council “owns” it on behalf of the Haringey taxpayers. In fact they hold it in trust for the benefit of  all people of north London. This is a pretty big responsibility but Haringey voluntarily took it on in 1980, thinking they could do better than the GLC.

Before the GLC it had been owned by a consortium of local authorities including Hornsey, Islington and Tottenham, and actually, in many years, did make a surplus – with far less commercial activity.

After the 1981 fire the council got about 8 million insurance but a council architect, Peter Smith (also responsible partly for the Shopping City debacle)  went out of control with the rebuilding. To the tune of many scores of millions. The charity commission had to step in and halt it. It was the biggest overspend in municipal history.  Because much of the spending was unauthorized, the Attorney-General and the charity commission ruled  that Haringey, as trustees, couldn’t  recompense itself for much of this spending out of the charity’s funds. Lord Toby Harris, then Leader, and the then CEO Gurbux Singh simply refused to accept this and charged the charity compound interest on the disputed money, which they called a “loan” or “debt”. All this is on public record. Whereas the board councillors AS TRUSTEES should have disputed this debt as it had been declared illegal. But they were also political councillors. Yes, it's a mess.

 In the 90’s at a Leaders’conference, the councillors were formally advised by Leading Counsel, expensively, that the cheapest way to settle the whole matter was to go to the Chancery Division of the High Court and seek a Beddoes Order and declaration of their duties and obligations as trustee.

 For some reason, probably because the out–of-control spending would be revealed, they never did this.

 The best outcome would probably be for the charity to be transferred to new, nationally-responsible trustees ASAP, after the High Court was asked for a decision as above.

"Where there is a conflict of interest, do you think that the first duty of the Members of the Trust Board is to the Trust or to the Council?"

Clive, I'm very sorry to see you retreat to your old comfort zone of nitpickery. Back in the distant misty morning of my life I trained and practised as a lawyer. And I do still remember a few bits of Trust law. So yes I can riddle your riddles too.

But there's no point. It's not helpful in any way.

I stopped being a lawyer because I realised that the most important and most interesting tasks involved solving problems which began at the Court door. Not  on the way in; but when leaving the Court after a case was won or lost.

Later on I learned that the sound of this penny dropping had a range of different names. Sometimes it was the blind men standing around an elephant. Sometimes it was called: Framing and Reframing problems. And also "Maslow's hammer", that psychologist's insight that people tend bring a specialised tool they know and are comfortable with, to solve each and every problem.

Faced with a knotty problem like the Ally Pally, we can go on for ever - as in the fable of the blind men around the elephant - saying:

"Its a wall!".

"Oh no it isn't, it's a tree trunk!"

"Rubbish. It's a man with a sword." 

Or we can acknowledge - as Strawcat does - that it's a very large intractable mess.

In fact, it is  an elephant. A white elephant. In the original meaning borrowed from Thailand. But in the sense we use to mean: "a possession which its owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of maintenance, is out of proportion to its usefulness". (Quote from Wikipedia 8 February 2015. )

One point I was making is that "feeding" and looking after the elephant is a smaller problem when times are good. But it becomes ever harder when there isn't enough money to go around for everyone and everything else. The "everything else" in this case being all the other calls on the Council's dwindling budget.

Clive, in the reinvention of the masked ball as a website, I don't know the identity behind the mask of Strawcat. But she or he plainly knows a lot more about Ally Pally than I do and is trying to summarise helpfully for people who don't know about it. But who are being taxed  to pay for it.

As a councillor, finding out the truth and plain explaining is one of your jobs too. A more vital task than ever in the present culture of spin, secrecy, smoke and mirrors, willed ignorance, and mischievous misdirection.

Please do not abdicate your responsibility to help with that task.

Hi Clive - let's hope the fate of Ally Pally is not too dependent on the quality of the next CEO - if it is, it increases the chances of failure.  Maybe we can ask the next one to do stuff that makes Ally Pally CEO-proof :)

I think it'd be great if the new CEO also took over the management of Hornsey Town Hall. Ally Pally applied for and obtained Lottery money to help assure it's future - HTH has already been awarded £4m but the tenant walked away. I notice that you've removed your signature as a Highgate Lib Dem councillor from this post. I presume you're still doing the job and I do remember your strong interest in all matters Ally Pally. Obviously one could take the view that Ally Pally is enough for any CEO but it might really help the borough to inject more businesslike reasoning across it's property portfolio. With the rest of it, I don't think the borough can afford to pay the sorts of CEO salary many CEOs expect, so this is a way of cross-subsidising. Provided it doesn't create a proprety 'Supremo'.

So, is there any impediment to encompassing HTH do you think?

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