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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust Board: drifting rudderless, on a tide of consultants

THE chronically dysfunctional Alexandra Palace Trust Board is in danger of squandering the goodwill it generated at the time of the Stakeholder workshop last October.

Then, the momentum was towards some form of long-overdue independence for governance (many aspects of existing governance arrangements were thoroughly criticised in the two Walklate Reports).

But in the next five months there has been little except drift. We hear the same lame mantra repeated "nothing is ruled in or out." Well, it is high time that the ultimate, independent board option was ruled in and continuing malign council-control ruled out!

Part of the drift can be explained by the fact the members of our Trust's Board – all politicians – are in election-mode. This by itself is an indictment of Charity Trustees and no way to run a railroad, let alone a major Charity of historical importance. The Chairman of the Statutory Advisory committee (David Liebeck) is angry at the time being wasted and recently remarked that it's long overdue that the politicians walked down the hill, away from AP and back to the Civic Centre!

And the time lost is not just since the Stakeholder Workshop. After the humiliating slap-down in 2007 by the High Court, it took two and half years before the policy of "holistic" sale for property development was finally formally abandoned.

That 15 year-old policy of flog-it-off, was the only strategy the Board ever came up with which enjoyed *continuity*. It was the only major strategy pursued with will and vigour.

But it also represented despair, a bankruptcy of ideas; was vandalism, an abrogation of responsibility and was an unmitigated disaster, burning millions of our money. And every last aspect of that sale attempt was consulted upon, heavily.

The recent drift also reflects abiding themes of this Board which are (a) a general inability to make coherent, effective decisions and (b) when a significant or strategic decision is made, it is often wrong spectacularly. Most notably, the decision to sell our Charity's asset (the Palace) to a former slum landlord.

Habitual delegation of responsibility

THE Board normally delegates its powers and functions to others; the Board would say that is practical and necessary. But it is also due to political fractures, a short-term outlook, a lack of ability, the infrequency of meetings and general inattention.

Powers and functions devolve to consultants or to council employees. In practice, this has meant our London landmark (which could be a prime tourist attraction) is run as a local municipal department. This has led to trouble, with palace management in the past operating in the shadows as a quasi-autonomous fiefdom, mainly for the benefit of its managers, their cronies and legions of consultants. The public, who pay for this charade, is often treated with contempt.

Due to lack of time and lack of on-board expertise, this Charity Trust Board is probably more dependent on external advisers and consultants than any other comparable Board. The many hangers-on often have an agenda separate from the officially stated one, and they are keen to maintain the status quo. The Board has been poorly advised in the past and there needs to be a clear-out of the hangers-on.

Alexandra Palace has been a gold-mine for lawyers and other consultants. During the sale-to-Firoka, much of the official flannel – and attempts to defend against criticism – was delegated to an expensive PR company (Lexington Communications, supposedly expert in crisis management).

The Board avoids addressing it own fundamental flaws and spends too much time considering half-baked ideas. In order to avoid responsibility and taking decisions, the board delegated studies about its own governance to an outside accounting firm. This is another indictment and demonstrates paralysis. Down the years, consultants have grown rich while the building deteriorates. And still the over-consulting goes on.

The Board's eagerness to delegate and its reluctance to take responsibility has been costly, confusing and corrosive.

Mixing up trading with governance

THE Board is slipping back into its well-known, old bad habits. It now intends to delegate not only much of its strategic role to its wholly-owned trading company, but even the Charitable Functions. And this with the blessing of the Charity Commission, itself heavily criticised by Justice Sir Jeremy Sullivan for its unlawful role in the attempt to sell our heritage.

The proper role for the trading company is managing trading operations and generating funds for our Charity. Mixing this up with governance is a recipe for more trouble.

Board members often make sense on an individual basis. But in the presence of Haringey Council bureaucrats, they tend to fall prey to the Jedi Mind Trick: "the palace is best kept under full council control". Trustee: "yes, the palace is best under council control". Jedi Master: "the council always knows best" Trustee: "yes, the council knows best!"

Most observers recognise that the fundamental conflict of interest between the roles of councillor and trustee is irreconcilable. For a while, everyone was repeating that governance needed reform. But nothing changes. This is a cast-iron guarantee of continuing strife.

The current Roadshow in the Borough's libraries is no substitute for reform of governance. Unless that nettle is grasped with both hands by the Board/Council, an opportunity will have been missed and we can expect more drift.

Some of the individual members of the trust board are well-meaning and well-intentioned. Collectively, they lack expertise, competence, professional qualifications and Charitable Trust experience. Most of all, they lack vision and leadership. It has been this way for 30 years and the results are plain to see: little except neglect and decay.

The public and beneficiaries deserve more for their money.