Review of Albert Hall constitution delayed for a year

This means the dispute with the Charity Commission over governance of the hall will spill over into a 10th year

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

Completion of the internal review of the constitution of the Albert Hall is being delayed for another year and action to change it cannot begin before November 2018 at the earliest, the annual general meeting of the hall’s members was told last week.

It means that the dispute between the hall and the Charity Commission, which wants people who own and can profit from a quarter of the hall’s seats to relinquish their majority on the charity’s governing council, will go into its 10th year. Since 2014 the commission has set three deadlines for action that have not been met.

The AGM was told by the hall’s president, Jon Moynihan, that the reason for the delay was the refusal by the commission to sanction expenditure on employing a parliamentary agent to draft a bill that would change the hall’s constitution, which is laid down in acts of parliament.

The commission has not given permission because the governance review does not at present include a proposal for reducing to a minority the number of members, also known as seat-holders, on the hall’s council. The council has insisted the majority must remain.

A spokeswoman for the hall council said that once the review was complete it would have to be approved by the next AGM before a bill could then be taken to to parliament in November, the month when bills of this kind have to be submitted each year.

"The hall continues to seek to modernise its constitution, with up to 30 changes currently under consideration, and we will be doing our best to overcome, as speedily as possible, any obstacles to having those changes made," she said.

A spokeswoman for the commission said consent for expenditure on a bill could be given only if it could be clearly shown it was in the best interests of the charity.

"The commission will therefore need to be satisfied that the proposed bill is necessary and its proposed contents deal with constitutional issues relating to the members and independence of the council."

The commission told the hall in 2015 that it had the legal power to alter the constitution of the hall if it considered it to be in the interests of the charity, but would prefer to proceed on the application of the charity.

It said: "The interests of the charity in being able to sell for itself as many seats as possible are at odds with the personal financial interests of the council members. The problem has become so acute as to require the constitution of the charity to be updated so as to manage the conflict… and minimise the real risk that the council members will prefer their own interests to those of the charity.

"The most straightforward way would be provide for a council with a majority of non-seat-holding members."

The commission has refused to release correspondence since June 2015, when it opened a regulatory compliance case, a process aimed at getting trustees to address perceived failures and weaknesses in their charity without a formal inquiry, which would enable the commission to use statutory enforcement powers.

At the end of last year an article in The Sunday Telegraph, based on an interview with the chair of the commission, William Shawcross, said the hall had been "given until May this year to put its house in order or face a formal inquiry by the commission."

At the time, a commission spokesman told Third Sector that it would not pre-judge the outcome of the constitutional review and would assess its regulatory options once this had been presented.

Moynihan said in a message to members before last week’s AGM that the hall was continuing to protest to the commission about this "badly judged interview", but it had failed to provide the requested clarification.

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