You may have heard that the Council issued a second consultation on the Victoria Hall Trust. The closing date is March 2nd.
This move took everyone by surprise as it was not explained how the two consultations relate to one another. Many who had responded to the first consultation contacted Ealing Voice asking whether they should respond again.
We therefore contacted the Council to ask them what we should do. They tell us that they will consider responses to the two consultations together after the second one closes on March 2nd. In doing so they say they will:
‘take into account any representations we receive relevant to the first consultation that we happen to receive in response to the second consultation and vice versa.’
Our advice therefore is that if you feel you commented sufficiently in your response to the first consultation you DO NOT need to repeat your comments again.
On the other hand, the second consultation specifically invites the public’s opinion about its plans to dispose of the Victoria Hall, and if you have not already done so you may wish to offer further views about this. Unfortunately, while this consultation gives a bit more detail than the first one did about the Victoria Hall and the charitable trust which runs it, some information Ealing Voice thinks is needed to give a considered opinion is still unavailable. Three months after we first asked we still do not know:
- what assets the trust owns.
- the trust accounts when separated from the rest of the Town Hall
- the full terms of the disposal of the assets or
- what compensation the trust would receive from their disposal.
Ealing Voice thinks that the details provided with the second consultation raises further concerns. In particular:
- The Council suggests that community access to the Victoria Hall will be retained with 10 free days use reserved to the Council each year. This assurance cannot be accepted as the Council has no right to reserve the premises for itself. The whole basis of the trust is that it separates the community’s right to the facilities from the Council. It should instead pay a rental to the trust every time it uses the hall.
- We are told that community access to the Victoria Hall is also to be retained because community groups would pay reduced off-peak hire rates. However, the terms of the deal show these rates will increase by 10% immediately and rise annually for the next 10 years. Thereafter they will be 60% of whatever the commercial hire rate is. This is destined to price out remaining community users as commercial hire rates are likely to rise significantly in the same way that so called “affordable” housing has turned out affordable to so few.
- The Council says a backlog of repairs and essential maintenance has built up over the years that the trust cannot afford. The information now provided suggests this is not the case at all. The backlog concerns the entire town hall, and not just the Victoria Hall, and it has been allowed to build up because the town hall as a whole has not been properly maintained.
- Information released shows that the Victoria Hall is the one part of the town hall complex that does generate revenue. The trust’s terms say that the first use of its income must go on maintaining its assets, but the receipts from letting the halls have never been put into their maintenance. Instead, the Council has for decades been taking the income for its own purposes.
All in all, the council seem to be accepting now that the trust has been mismanaged for many years. History proves there are too many too many conflicts of interest between the Council’s role as a local authority and that of Charity trustee.
Guidance published by the Charity Commission and the Local Government Association suggests that it would be in the best interests of the trust for the Council to remove itself as the trustee. We plan to propose to the Charity Commission that it should require an alternative to the trust to be established under what is called a ‘cy pres’ scheme.
The latest consultation shows that the Council now realises alternative sources of funding maintenance do exist including from ‘external grants and other income sources’ or by raising commercial hire rates. Ealing Voice thinks these sources need to be much more fully investigated than they have been. Disposal of the trust’s assets as is currently being proposed must be a very last resort.
This is something that has a lot further to run. We shall keep you posted.