Caption for top photo

"Hello Radiolympia. This is direct television from the studios at Alexandra Palace!" *

THESE were the immortal words spoken to camera by Elizabeth Cowell and received at the big Radio show at Olympia, in West London. This was amongst similar test transmissions during August 1936, prior to the beginning of regular broadcasting just a couple of months later, on 2 November 1936.

Alexandra Palace was the birthplace of scheduled public, "high" definition television broadcasting in the UK and arguably, the world.

The American Modern Mechanix magazine of May 1935, described this as, England Will Broadcast First Chain Television Programs, to "Lookers".

BBC Studios A & B are the world's oldest surviving television studios.

YET in 2007, our People’s Palace was to be sold down the river by its very guardians – the Trustee – the London Borough of Haringey. The TV studios were to be destroyed with the connivance of the local council. Here is raw uncensored opinion and information about the scandal of the attempted fire-sale of our Charitable Trust’s asset, for property development. It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.

AFTER receiving a slap-down from the High Court (2007, October 5), two and a half years went by before the council finally abandoned its 15-year-old policy of "holistic" sale (i.e. lock stock and barrel). Then there was an attempt at partial sale ("up to two-thirds") to a music operator but without governance reform. To tart the place up for a developer, the council blithely sought about a million pounds towards this goal, a further sum of cash to be burnt.

THE local council has proved itself, to everyone's satisfaction, to have been a poor steward and guardian for over 20 years. Now, the master plan (below) developed under the new CEO Duncan Wilson OBE deserves to succeed.

It would be also be a big step forward to have a Trust Board at least partly independent of Haringey Council. 'Outside' experts would be an advantage. They'd likely be more interested, committed, of integrity and offer greater continuity. Bringing independent members onto the board and freeing it from political control would be the best assurance of success, sooner.


• £3 mlln. loss to Council at Alexandra Palace Trust

IT IS REPORTED there is a £3,000,000 hole in the Council’s accounts caused by losses at the Alexandra Palace Trust. Mismanagement has been a chronic problem at the Council-controlled Trust, but the past year saw a ballooning of waste, mistakes and irresponsibility. The Council recklessly tried to give our Palace as a ‘developer shell’ to their favoured property developer (Firoka). And now the Charity Commission has opened a case about the matter, with two officers appointed.

The Trustees’ decision last year, to grant a temporary trading licence to Firoka, was like agreeing to sell one’s house for say, £1.5m. Then, on the day of Exchange-of-Contract, handing the keys over and giving vacant possession—without waiting for completion. All this, without taking any deposit, let alone receiving the purchase price.

Then, after you move out, you continue to pay the rates, gas, electricity, phone and insurance bills on your old house. You also still pay the wages of your old cook, cleaner and the gardener at your former home. And you pay for an odd-job man, plumber and electrician just as the new ‘owner’ requires. To do this, you’d have to be either a half-wit or Haringey Council.

The councillor-trustees agreed—probably unlawfully—to a similar sketch for our charity. With this background, is it any wonder that Firoka enjoyed such a long, profitable time in our house at our expense, before the Council reluctantly evicted them?

Despite spending three quarters of a million pounds on their own lawyers, the council appears meekly to have just signed every document placed in front of them by Firoka’s lawyers.

In May 2007, the current Trust Chairman inherited problems from the previous AP chairman, in the recurring cycle of this depressing saga. As the chairman has now been reappointed for another 12 months, sooner or later he and his fellow Trustees ought to begin to take responsibility. The likelihood is that in another 12 months the chalice will be passed on, without progress, to another set of inattentive amateurs.

As for this year’s £3.1 million loss that Haringey taxpayers are expected to make good, the chairman had this to say, probably drafted by Lexington Communications, the PR company employed by our charity:
“The Palace’s accounts are always discussed in open forum and this years’ discussions were no different, these figure have been a matter of public record for months. As unanimously agreed by councillors, a provisional deficit of £3.1 million is in line with the revised budget allocation confirmed by Haringey Council in the last financial year. Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust’s accounts are currently in draft and will be audited and agreed later this year as normal.”

Lexington’s language
  in effect means, ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here’. In attempting to pass off this huge loss as business-as-usual, the Board Chairman is correct in this respect: the poor decisions by the Councillor-Trustees are typical and they will continue – as long as Trustees are Councillors. A disaster is presented as not merely normal, its almost a matter for celebration. A unanimous vote that there is a deficit, is almost a triumph.

It seems presumptuous to state ahead of time and publicly, that the accounts … will be audited and agreed. An auditor of a private sector company would rightly take umbrage at such a statement, which no real CEO would be likely to make. Auditors are supposed to be independent. The chairman’s statement seems intended either to intimidate the auditor (as the trust bullies the Charity Commission), or it demonstrates little regard for the importance of the auditor’s function as an objective check on the Trust accounts.

The chairman also stated categorically that “We are not subject to any investigation by the Charity Commission”. And yet, when a member of the public asked the Council for an unredacted copy of the licence that permitted Firoka to occupy our palace, it was refused in writing by the Council itself, on the grounds that there was an on-going investigation. The apparent contradiction of this with the chairman’s statement, could be accounted for, if the running of our charitable trust by the Council is the subject of investigations by multiple regulatory agencies.

Most of the Trustees take little interest in this multi-million pound business. Trustees that do try to take an interest, are obstructed in obtaining the most basic information from the coterie of council-cronies who control our charity. One Trustee was informed that he would need to complete a formal Freedom of Information application to obtain a basic document.

Obsessive secrecy has long been a feature of this unfit-for-purpose body and the lack of scrutiny has led to huge losses. One bad decision begets and another bad decision. As a whole, the Trust Board has no shame and take no responsibility for their ineptitude. Meanwhile the opportunities of a community-based solution are brushed aside and council tax payer pick up the bloated bill for bungling.

Edited version
"Bill for Bungling has passed £3m"
Ham&High Broadway

Pally finances still in disarray'
published in Hornsey Journal,

16 July 2008