Code of conduct for Dartford 'could become a general model' for councils as sole trustees

Charity tribunal has told the council to draw up the code after it wrongly sold charitable land to a developer

A code of conduct that Dartford Borough Council has been told to draw up for use by the committee that governs the Kent town's charitable parkland could become a model for other councils that act as charity trustees, according to the charity tribunal.

The tribunal partly upheld an appeal last year by two Dartford residents against the Charity Commission's response to the sale to a developer of a section of the Kidd Legacy land, of which Dartford Borough Council is the sole trustee.

The tribunal ordered the council to recruit a quorum of independent trustees who could take decisions when councillors had to withdraw because of conflicts of interest. 

Following feedback from the appellants and the commission, the tribunal has now also told the council to draw up a code of conduct for council members sitting on the charitable land's governing committee.

The commission is required to approve the code and any subsequent changes to it, as well as any decisions affected by conflicts of interest that are taken before the code is in place.

The tribunal ruling, released yesterday, says that by highlighting the need for a formal process to deal with conflicts of interest, the appellants "have brought about an important enhancement of the governance arrangements for this charity".

It adds that the tribunal hopes the bespoke code of conduct "might ultimately serve as a model of good practice for local authorities acting as charity trustees".

But the ruling also notes that the tribunal has no power to stipulate how the extra trustees are appointed. The appellants have previously voiced fears that the council would not appoint truly independent trustees

One of the appellants, Derek Maidment, told Third Sector it was up to the council to appoint the best people for the job. "The most important thing is that they have integrity and will employ the objects of the charity and maintain the land for future generations," he said.

An advert for trustees published last week in a Dartford newspaper said applicants should demonstrate a "commitment to good governance and sound financial management" and "act solely in the best interests of the charity".

A spokeswoman for the Charity Commission welcomed the tribunal's decision and said work with the council on the conflicts of interest policy had already begun.

"We are currently developing our work with local authorities and our guidance in this area, and the tribunal's decision will inform this process," she said. "Although the tribunal's decision does not set a precedent, it will be a helpful point of reference."

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