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 It includes letters sent to local papers, published & unpublished.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


• Ally Pally fireworks cancelled

THE November Fireworks display at Alexandra Palace is probably the biggest in north London. I enjoy it as do tens of thousands of others. The Ally Pally Trust Board meeting last week took the decision to suspend it, in order to save c.£100,000. This was the right and necessary decision, however the suspension does raise other aspects.

The trust is instead to write begging letters to see if funds for fireworks can come from somewhere else (other than trust funds/council tax). If some commercial sponsor is happy to see their cash go up in smoke in the name of publicity, then good luck to them. But it would be wrong for our Charity to seek funds from any kind of public purse when restraint in tax spending is the order of the day and front-line services are endangered.

To justify the difficult decision, reference was made to the fact that to continue the fireworks would cause a loss to the Charity.

It was pleasing to hear this status recognized.

Every north Londoner reading this is, in law, a beneficiary of the Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust (NB: not necessarily a resident of Haringey Borough).

Haringey Council-Trustee has run our Charity – as a semi-autonomous municipal department – since 1980. In truth, our Trust has not been in a financial position to host the fireworks for some years. Any cost overruns have been and would be added to the overall deficit held by the council.

The deficit – much of it bogus – is now more than £40,000,000: this is money that the Trustee (Haringey Council) claim that our Trust owes to Haringey Council (the Trustee). This is accountancy, but not as we know it. A full Council meeting last year decided not to discharge this 'debt' (?!).

The Board chaired by Pat Egan has acted in the interests of our Charity, but some of his Board colleagues have sought to score political points and somehow blame the Coalition government for this particular 'cut'. How little some of them know about the 30-year history of council-control and management of our heritage. When the newbies speak, believing our charity is a party-political extension of the council debating chamber, they demonstrate how unfit politicians are to be running a major Charitable Trust.

Conflict-of-interest underlies everything that the Trust Board does, but for once, the Trust Board has made a big decision exclusively in the interests of the Charity.

A nod to the charitable status may represent a genuine change of heart by the council. It may just be coincidence that, when a decision is made that is high-profile and likely to be unpopular with the public, it is linked to the word Charity.

But the decision also illustrates how the board/council is able to pick and choose when to invoke the 'charitable' status, depending on circumstances.

Charitable legal status is an inconvenient truth for Haringey. In the past, little mention was made of it. When the council tried to sell the whole building to their "preferred development partner" (the rapacious developer Firoka) for £1.5m., this status was largely ignored. The sale of our Charity’s main asset (Ally Pally) for purely commercial purposes, was most likely unlawful.

Charity was little mentioned in a classic example of conflict-of-interest, when the council first applied to itself for a gambling licence in our charity's premises, and then awarded itself a gambling premises licence at Alexandra Palace in April 2008.

Two years earlier the Trust Solicitor tried to square this circle in an attempt to get gambling into our Charity. He wrote to the Charity Commission: "Casino use does fall within the objects of the Charity as a recreational activity” (on this basis, another licensed activity, lap dancing, should also qualify. (Lap dancing could also be seen as recreational, if not wholly charitable). The background was, that the council had secretly promised permission for a casino to Firoka in the Lease and the lawyer's representation was an attempt to justify that clause. The Charity Commission went along with it but were later pole axed in the High Court over their farcical consultation.

As long as our Charity is controlled by conflicted local councillors, it will be impossible for the Trust Board to make good decisions consistently or even most of the time. The best way to deal with conflicts-of-interest is not to have them in the first place. The only viable, sustainable future for Ally Pally has to be governance by expert, undivided, independent Trustees.

No comments:

Post a Comment