The Charity Commissioners are to examine whether a party political conference being staged at the exclusive, £10,000-a-year fee-paying Trinity School in Croydon may break strict rules controlling the school’s charitable status.
This Saturday’s Conservative party conference, featuring several Tory ministers as speakers, is being organised by the very ambitious councillor for Waddon ward, Clare George-Hilley.
Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell and Dudley Mead, another Croydon Tory councillor, are both leading figures on the governing body of the independent school, which benefits from significant tax breaks as a result of his charitable status.
Following a report by Inside Croydon, the Charity Commissioners today announced that they would be examining the nature of Saturday’s meeting at the school, which is run by the Whitgift Foundation charitable trust.
The Charity Commissioners will want to see that their tough rules over political involvement of charities are not broken.
“Thank you for bringing the matter to our attention, we are assessing the issue you have raised in line with normal procedure. We will be contacting the Whitgift Foundation (charity registration no.312612), which administers Trinity School,” a spokeswoman for the Charity Commissoners said.
The spokeswoman added that the Commission’s general position on charities and political activity is set out in Speaking Out – Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities.
The guide is lengthy and heavily nuanced, offering the Commissioners plenty of “wiggle room” to reproach errant charitable trusts without withdrawing their tax benefits.
But as the Charity Commissioners’ own website states: “The guiding principle of charity law in terms of campaigning, political activity and elections is that charities should be, and be seen to be, independent from party politics.”
Key to the investigation may be whether George-Hilley, through her Tory connections at the school with old boys Barwell and Mead, managed to negotiate a significantly discounted hire and services rate from Trinity School for her career-boosting conference.
Sources close to the wannabe MP suggest that George-Hilley was furious at the weekend when the issue of the venue’s charitable status was called in to question.
This is the second political embarrassment for George-Hilley in a couple of weeks.
It follows closely on her gushing publicly to other senior council figures at a Croydon meeting that she “hates” the Coalition Government that her party leader, David Cameron, has formed with the LibDems.