Nicholas Evans Resigns As Trustee

His resignation statement in full

It is with much regret that I have decided to resign as a Conservator, effective from the 12 November 2015.

Open and transparent
When I stood for election as a trustee I pledged to change the way the charity is managed and to ensure that its governance respects charity law. I also stressed that the Nolan principles in public life need to be applied, and in particular, that the charity must become open and transparent in all that it does.

Such openness and transparency has not been possible. With a board dominated by the majority votes of only five trustees I have been repeatedly denied the opportunity to fulfil my commitment. I have been further hindered by the actions of the Chief Executive.

Breaches of the Charities Act 2011
After taking up my post in April 2015 it soon became apparent that the previous board of Trustees had breached the Charities Act 2011 when they disposed of the access rights at Putney Hospital to Wandsworth Borough Council in February 2012. Crucially they did not follow Sections 117-121 of the Act, and failed to commission the necessary ‘Qualified Surveyor’s Report’ (QSR) including a valuation. The same board subsequently misled both the Charity Commission and Levy Payers by stating that the stipulations in the Charities Act had been complied with in a letter from WPCC to the Charity Commission sent in January 2015 by the Chief Executive. Similarly obfuscating statements were posted on the WPCC website.

A retrospective Qualified Surveyors Report
With the knowledge that the previous board had broken the Charities Act of 2011, it would have been reasonable to expect that the new board would have carried out the agreed review of what happened, would obtain a retrospective QSR to confirm whether or not a loss had been incurred and advise the Charity Commission what had happened.

Attempts to prevent progress to reach a consensus on what had happened; hindering the work of individual trustees.
A series of steps was taken by members of the board, which muddled the main issues, delayed investigation, withheld the facts from the public, prevented discussion of draft documents by all the board, hindered the calling of necessary special board meetings and prevented any action being taken to recover funds from those who may be liable. Documents were withheld from trustees and, most recently, relevant papers were removed without my knowledge from files that I was reviewing.

Failure to discuss the Montagu Evans LLP report at board level
As a result of delays in obtaining a retrospective QSR a majority of the Audit and Risk Committee, of which I was a member, commissioned an independent report from Montagu Evans LLP, a leading Chartered Surveyor. This established a value of £1.9m for the access that had been sold for £350,000 in February 2012. However a majority of the board now refuses to accept its findings, and at the board meeting on the 11 November prevented further discussion.

Previous estimates of the access value
It is important to state that the Montagu Evans LLP QSR report complies with all the requirements in charity law, and that it is the only valuation ever received by the charity concerning the access at Putney Hospital.

Why did the charity claim that they had valuations related to the sale of the access rights to the Wandsworth Primary Care Trust (WPCT) in 2010 for £250,000, and subsequently £350,000 in February 2012 to Wandsworth Borough Council (WBC)? Drivers Jonas provided a series of estimates in emails dating back to October 2008. These suggested that the value of the access was in the region of £775,000 or 50% of the “marriage value”. The related exchanges on file relate solely to what they believed the WPCT or WBC would be willing to pay. The “valuations” that had been cited by the charity were no such thing, and the figures quoted were the negotiated sale prices. Throughout this process the law related to selling rights over protected land was ignored.

An attempt to “draw a line” under the agreed review
A board meeting to be held on the 9 September was summarily cancelled, at a time when the report from Montagu Evans LLP was due to be discussed. A board paper for that meeting written by the Chief Executive recommended that a “line be drawn” under the Putney Hospital review, effectively preventing further progress. Had this recommendation been accepted, I believe this would have been the culmination of a strategy to avoid the consequences of what had been done in 2012.

A wider malaise of management and governance
The lack of coherent management by the Chief Executive and by the majority of the board relates to a range of other major issues and concerns. A list of leases held by the charity? - not provided. The new website? - delayed. Open meetings? - cancelled. Public statements? - almost non-existent. There are many other examples. Significantly a majority of the board when meeting on the 11 November, agreed to “suspend” all the committees established by the governance review.

Intervention by the Charity Commission
The intervention of the Charity Commission in October, which provided an “action plan,” offered a potential solution. However the majority of the board has since added unacceptable conditions. For example, I cannot agree with the suspension of the governance structure put in place following the governance review by Dorothy Dalton. I believe that the three “appointed trustees” who were in post when the breaches of the Charities Act 2011 occurred, are as a result conflicted. Despite this, they have taken part in decisions made at the board meeting on the 11 November. It is now important that the Conservators seek advice on how to recover the loss and from whom. However at the most recent board meeting the majority (5/3) agreed that no legal advice was necessary on conflicts of interest, exposing the entire board to significant risk of financial repercussions.

In these difficult circumstances the rangers, maintenance, and administrative staff who look after the Commons have continued to do an excellent job. I wish them well.

No choice but to resign
In trying to steer the charity in a direction that would correct the wrongs that I believe have been done, I have also tried to bring its management into line with best practice. Prevented from doing so, I have no other choice but to resign. The public needs to know what has been going on to prevent this ever happening again.

A new election
I expect and hope that the Charity Commission will undertake a Statutory Enquiry. I encourage them to do so and will cooperate with them in full. It will now be necessary for the charity to hold an election for a new Conservator, as stipulated in the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1871 which sets out the way this should be conducted.

Nicholas Evans

November 13, 2015