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"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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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.


"Improving Governance" at Alexandra Palace

THE LOCAL council had no idea what it was taking on when it assumed responsibility for Alexandria Palace from the GLC in 1980

First, Haringey did not appreciate the implications of being a Trustee of a big Charity and secondly, the size of the commitment might stretch most single London councils, even without trying to recover from a devastating fire (also in 1980).

Haringey took over a Charitable Trust which is of course governed by the law of Trust and Charity. But Haringey has found it expedient to run Alexandra Palace as though it were a municipal department, governed by the Local Government Act. The two sets of laws seek to achieve different things, and with Alexandra Palace, they are in perpetual conflict. This has not yet been tested in court, but the differences seem irreconcilable. It has led to serious, chronic conflicts of interest which are just ignored by the council. One conflict of interest begets another. One mistake begets another.

Given this fraught legal background, only the most savvy, expert legal advice could even begin to help. But for more than 15 years, the Trust has received advice from a single source which has been indifferent at best. The forthcoming Tender for Legal Services is long overdue, especially given that the Board may be considering action in connection with the Licence to Firoka and Firoka currently suing our Charity for £6,200,000 over the botched sale.

The supervisory Charity Commission see all this as a big can of worms and avoid getting involved, so much so that their willingness to discharge their regulatory function has to be questioned.

The current Trust Board Chairman, while chairing a recent Consultative committee, said they were unloved. One wonders why? The new chairman will try his best, but the likelihood is that in another 12 months, the poison chalice will be passed to a new chairman just as in the past, without fundamental progress.

The two peripheral committees (Consultative and Advisory) act as lightning rods for discontent. The council humours and largely ignores them. The Advisory Committee has Statutory powers, but they are so vague that the council is able to define their remit so that they have no authority. The recently departed general manager described some of what he did as "operational matters" and beyond influence of the committees. At one time, he described the Advisory Committee as engaged in a "land-grab"!

Away-day junket-jollies have been organised to enable everyone to get to know each other better. One hopes this will not have the effect of rebuilding the corrosive crony-culture that characterised control in the past. The current regime of political control (by party voting) ensures that the Trust Board will remain dysfunctional and is likely to lead to more wrong decisions.

Post-Walklate, everyone repeats the mantra of "improving governance". But months after the critical Walklate reports, there is not a single independent voting Trustee on the board. Instead, improved governance takes the form of municipal action plans. The council just cannot let go and yet their policy of sale has still not been renounced.

Since they lost control of the re-building costs in the 1980s, Haringey Council has had two main aims with respect to Alexandra Palace. The first is doggedly to evade responsibly for their past crazed spending and second, to sell off the Palace for property development, as secretly as they can. (The spending included extravagance such as the shipping of eight 20 ft high palm trees from Alexandria in Egypt.) The council would prefer to sell the palace in great secrecy before it ever assumed responsibility for its past failure.

It's a problem of ego and pride. The current majority group is a prisoner of past mistakes and cannot bring themselves to do things that will in effect, be a judgement on the actions of their party political predecessors. The prime goal, to evade accountability for the huge rebuilding cost overruns (for which they alone were responsible) has been the council's most consistent and entrenched policy. The refusal to own up led to the council's huge cost overruns being dumped into our Charity's accounts.

The bogus debt currently stands at £37,000,000 and will grow larger with interest. But the sheer size of the bogus debt – now equal to the amount Haringey stashed in the frozen Ice-banks – is becoming an embarrassment. It is high time that the reality of nonsense was faced. Much of this so-called debt amounted to little less than false accounting and it does appear from the seminal 1996 Treasury Solicitor letter, that the council were thought of as cheats and fraudsters, although of course, more genteel language was used.

Improved governance needs to be more than increasing the paper flow between existing employees. With Alexandra Palace, it should mean vision, leadership and judgement – uninfluenced by party politics. Independent Trustees of integrity who would be expert, committed, interested and professional would be a tiny step in the right direction but it must lead to a Board where political control is tapered to a minimum.