Trustees and the Royal Albert Hall

Your comments on articles in last month's edition of Third Sector

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

New protocols for trustees are needed at the Royal Albert Hall

I read with interest your report about the demand by the Charity Commission for the Royal Albert Hall to change its constitution so that its ruling council has a majority of independent trustees, rather than of elected seat holders (September, page 36).

This would jeopardise the future of the hall because elected seat holders have been responsible for its historic and current success. Instead, the council and the Charity Commission should establish new protocols for behaviour by trustees of the hall. This might include provisions for trustees to disclose their seat holdings and seat income, and to sell their personal tickets only through the hall's internal ticket return scheme (which does not sell tickets above face value).

Those trustees who run what are, in effect, commercial ticket operations would each face a choice: to respect their position as a trustee of a national charity by selling tickets internally, or to step down as a trustee so they can chase commercial ticket sales externally as an ordinary seat holder.

New online marketplaces have blurred the lines on ticket sales and raised the stakes in recent years. Seat-holder trustees should recognise the need for greater transparency and ethical restraint in their continued governance of the hall. This compromise would not affect the alignment of interest between private and public benefit that is such a feature of the hall's enduring success.

Peter Denison-Pender, member of council of the Royal Albert Hall, 2004-2015, Barcombe, East Sussex

Pricing policy at charity shops is not opportunism but good sense

With regard to Triona Fitton's article about the professionalisation of charity shops (October, page 15), I would like to point out that more than 210,000 people volunteer in some 10,000 charity shops: making generalisations about this large group of dedicated volunteers and shops is unhelpful.

Charity retail has become much more professional in its approach in recent years and the net contribution made by the sector of nearly £300m in 2014/15 bears testament to that fact. One of the joys of charity store shopping is that all the items donated and sold are different. This means the guidelines set by the charity retailers are just that. It is normal practice to price by quality and type of item but, inevitably, this will always remain an art rather than a science.

You could argue that the evidence that shops at local level are discussing and negotiating prices with customers shows more professionalism rather than less. Paid charity shop staff are also part of the local communities they serve: 70 per cent of managers are from the area local to the shop. This means they are ideally placed to understand their local markets. Many, if not most, commercial retailers will negotiate prices with their customers on a regular basis within their set parameters, such as through clearance sales.

To characterise this as opportunism denigrates the integrity of the many staff and volunteers in our shops.

Steve Biddle, acting chief executive, Charity Retail Association, London N7

Don't compare sector with small businesses – they fail all the time

It was great to see your new columnist, Joe Saxton, arguing the need for more, not fewer, charities in the last issue (October, page 23), but I can't help thinking he's accidentally undermined his own argument by glibly referring to the small business sector, where we encourage more firms to be started all the time.

It is true that the wider small business sector is prolific in terms of the number of firms that have very similar offers, but it also has a high failure rate: most start-ups don't survive past three years because they run out of money or find that there aren't as many customers as they thought there would be.

If we're going to draw on examples from other sectors to support our own arguments about our sector, we should also be aware of those sectors' limitations. How many people would be happy to accept such a high winding-up rate of charities?

Adrian Ashton, independent adviser and trainer, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

How did anyone fall for Camila Batmanghelidjh and Kids Co?

With reference to Craig Dearden-Phillips' second thoughts on Kids Company (October, page 34), how on earth did anybody with any commercial experience fall for Camila Batmanghelidjh and her nonsense? Her public statements and numbers didn't add up.

In the private sector, investors put money into a start-up pretty much with their eyes open about the risks. If it all goes horribly wrong, so be it - they knew what they were doing. But in charities, it is the gullible public - either directly through donations or indirectly through taxation - that pays for founders' delusions and fantasies. The sorry tale of Kids Company's collapse has done great damage to all charities. And there's still the big question of where the £3m, given by foolish ministers a week before the implosion, actually went.

Latimer Alder, posted online

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