Ex-president of Royal Albert Hall urges current incumbent to avert legal action

Richard Lyttelton has written to current president Jon Moynihan, suggesting he work constructively with the Charity Commission, which is referring its case on the charity's governance to the charity tribunal

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

A former president of the Royal Albert Hall has appealed to the current president to "work constructively with the Charity Commission" to avert impending legal action over the hall’s governance.

Richard Lyttelton, who was president from 2010 to 2011, recalls in a letter to Jon Moynihan that the regulator has given the hall many years to respond to its concerns and is now, with the consent of the Attorney General, referring the case to the charity tribunal.

The commission contends that owners of seats in the hall who can sell their tickets at inflated prices on the internet should no longer form a majority of the trustee body on the grounds that they might put their own interests before those of the charity.

Lyttelton’s letter says: "The commission has concluded, quite reasonably, that under your presidency the council has made no concessions and intends to defend to the last an abuse of privilege that is clearly bringing members, the hall and the charity sector at large into disrepute."

Lyttelton has copied his letter to about 350 people and institutions, including many charities, that own about a quarter of the hall’s 5,272 seats. Each seat carries a vote for the election of the hall’s president and 19 of the 24 members of the council. A special general meeting must be held if 20 seat-holders call for it in writing, and council members can be removed by a two-thirds majority.

Asked why he was copying the letter to seat-holders, Lyttelton, who owns four seats, said: "The corporation is not an exclusive club and I suspect that some members might not be fully aware that with the privileges of seat ownership comes an obligation to ensure the hall is governed lawfully and, as a registered charity, in the public interest. My letter is a last-ditch attempt to persuade council to avert further costly and damaging legal proceedings.

"I fear that if members continue to abdicate responsibility and allow council to use charitable funds to support the sale of tickets at excessive prices on the internet, we emphasise the need for radical change and risk reforms being imposed upon us that might not be in the interests of the hall or seat-holders. I wanted to set this out clearly before it is too late."

A spokeswoman for the Albert Hall said it was aware of the letter but Moynihan had not yet received it so could not comment.

Asked to confirm that the hall was using its charitable funds for legal expenses in resisting the commission, she said: "The charity uses its funds for a variety of reasons, including legal advice. Any expenditure is scrutinised by our trustees to ensure we are acting in the best interests of the charity whilst upholding its reputation."

Lyttelton’s letter calls for the hall to forbid the sale by members of their tickets above face value. The hall runs a returns scheme that members can use to sell unwanted tickets at face value and receive the revenue.

The letter says the hall should "operate lawfully" by ceasing to modify, through a vote at the annual meeting, a section of the Royal Albert Hall Act 1966 that determines the number of performances each year for which members give up tickets for their seats – so-called "exclusives".

It says: "Council’s vigorous defence of an antiquated constitution, which gives members rights to profit from their tickets while retaining control of governance, programming and access to our seats, is clearly unacceptable."

The letter also warns that constitutional change forced on the council as a result of legal action "is likely to be less beneficial to members and the hall than one that is negotiated in good faith... The corporation must work constructively with the commission to reform the constitution, recognising both the rights and obligations of members and the interests of the hall as a charity."

Third Sector asked eight charities that own seats in the hall if they had a view of the governance dispute at the hall and how they planned to respond to Lyttelton’s letter.

Help Musicians UK said: "While we do not plan to take any action, we do believe that any organisation under the jurisdiction of the Charity Commission should abide by any law set by that regulator, which in turn will lead to more transparency and accountability in the third sector."

The Garfield Weston Foundation said it was "confident that the legal team and experts at the Charity Commission and the Attorney General will ensure a suitable resolution to this matter."

The Imperial Health Charity, which raises funds for the five hospitals in the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, said it had no comment.

There was no response from the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the Peabody Trust and the Guys’ and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

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