Town Hall withdraws all councillors from Fairfield Halls board

Wonders will never cease.

For the first time in its 50-plus-year history, the Fairfield Halls management board has no members imposed upon it by Croydon Council.

Might there be a pot of ethical gold at the end of the rainbow for the Fairfield Halls?

Might there be a pot of ethical gold at the end of the rainbow for the Fairfield Halls?

The decision was announced by the Labour-run council last week, in among its various other appointments to affiliated bodies. The move for once creates a more arm’s-length relationship between the council, as lease-holders of the Fairfield Halls site and lead developers of the area around the arts centre, and the artistic management responsible for the day-to-day running of the venues.

This move ought to avoid the sort of sniff of unpleasant impropriety which occurred under the previous Tory Town Hall administration, which was taken to task by the Charity Commission for its misfiring attempt to takeover the Halls  – which was halted after being uncovered by Inside Croydon.

Having some distance between the Fairfield Halls management and the council is also important at this time, with tens of millions of pounds of public money due to be spent on a long-overdue refurbishment of the venue.

Timothy Godfrey, Labour’s cabinet member for culture had, until the decision to withdraw council appointees, been one of five councillors to hold places on the 11-person-strong Fairfield board.

Kate Vennnell: conducted a governance review of the Fairfield Halls in her first year as chair

Kate Vennnell: conducted a governance review of the Fairfield Halls in her first year as chair

He said, “It comes about at the right time for the Fairfield. They have had Kate Vennell in place as a new chair for about a year and have conducted a governance review.

“This prompted me to fully consider the options and I decided it would be best for the Fairfield if they had the freedom to recruit directors that matched their governance needs, as opposed to having five councillors who although caring and passionate for the Fairfield were not appointed to match the needs of the organisation.

“The Labour council is actively supporting the Fairfield deliver a much-improved building over the next three years and this move helps them do that is an open and ethical manner.”

The perception of “the Favoured Halls” may linger, with the complex continuing to receive such significant funding from the council while other arts venues and projects suffer a grant drought. But the removal of the likes of the Hon Emily Benn and Dudley Mead from the Fairfield board ought to mean that the councillors will no longer be receiving their previous freebie tickets for the pick of the shows.

This startling move, of Croydon Council actually doing the right thing, comes hard on the heels of Gavin Barwell, supposedly the MP for Croydon Central, finally divesting himself of his positions within the Whitgift Foundation (though no one is so naive as to assume he won’t continue to prioritise his lobbying on behalf of the borough’s biggest landowners, on the premise that it’s “for the good of Croydon”).

Whatever next? Will Mike #WadGate Fisher, the disgraced former leader of the Tory group at the Town Hall, refund the £15,000 in allowances which he paid himself in secret out of the public purse? Or maybe Labour’s Toni Letts will decide to stand down from the Whitgift Foundation while she serves as the cabinet member for economic development?

Of course, realistically, we will be reporting on a fly-past of a herd of porkers over the Town Hall before either of those outbreaks of ethical conduct occur.

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This entry was posted in Art, Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon Council, Dudley Mead, Emily Benn, Fairfield Halls, Property, Timothy Godfrey, Toni Letts and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Town Hall withdraws all councillors from Fairfield Halls board

  1. Peter Rogers says:

    Maybe they’ll get someone on board who advertises acts before they’re sold out? Or get acts people want? I’ve been to more council ‘fairs or fares’ at Fairfield than I have shows. And when the west end is cheaper you have to wonder what the point of Fairfield Halls is. It’s a prime site build more flats we can’t afford. More flats. Oh and a pantomime so those soap stars don’t starve

  2. Well that is good news! During the Riesco campaign I received so many comments from agencies outside the Borough that they would not fund any organisation that was to all intents and purposes just part of Croydon Council.
    This is a real chance for Fairfield Halls to shine again; be an entrepreneurial Arts space; and draw funding into the Borough from large national donors.

    Next step the Councillors need to withdraw from the Whitgift Foundation; and the Foundation needs to benchmark itself to the best schools in the World that pride themselves on being at the cutting edge of educational research and practice, schools like the Raffles Institution Singapore The Raffles Institution has the vision: “Be the Hope of a Better Age”, and the mission: “Raffles Institution is committed to developing leaders of the future steeped in character, confidence and commitment. Our students are able and eager to bring out the best in their communities. They embody the institution’s mission of Nurturing thinkers, leaders and pioneers of character who serve by leading and lead in serving.”

    It is time to move on from the rather domineering, colonial World of the Whitgift motto (He conquers who endures ) Vincit qui patitur.

  3. adrianwin says:

    I’m all for as range of arts venues and initiatives being supported, without the Fairfield being unduly “favoured”. Five councillors on a board of 11 sounds excessive. But if someone argued: “With the council giving the Fairfield many many £millions of public money towards future projects, there’s a case for having a councillor on their board to take responsibility for seeing that the money is spent wisely”, what would be the argument against that. I’m unsure, so this is a genuine question.

    • With five out of 11 members of the board, including the deputy leader of the local Conservatives, it was difficult not to cast the Fairfield as the “Favoured Halls” over the last Tory Town Hall administration.

      There are several key examples where public resources were routed away from other arts venues and facilities to the Fairfield: the Tories withdrew the grant from the Warehouse Theatre deliberately to allow them to transfer a £3m developers’ “gift” for use at the Favoured Halls.

      The unlawful sale of part of the Riesco Collection of ancient procelain, held by the Museum of Croydon, was not only so badly handled that it achieved much less in cash-terms than had been promised, but it was done explicitly to raise cash for the Favoured Halls; yet it’s principle impact was to make Croydon arts toxic, unable to apply for Arts Council and Lottery grants.

      And there was the closure of the David Lean Cinema, Adrian, and the attempt to transfer the arts-house cinema’s programme to the 2,000-seater auditorium of … the Favoured Halls.

      There was a clear pattern of favouritism, to the exclusion of all else within the borough. This not only failed the borough, its residents and the local arts scene, it also failed to serve the Fairfield Halls particularly well.

      The reality is that Croydon Council is the leaseholder of the Fairfield Halls. They ought to have a relationship with their tenant just as any other landlord does. Having one councillor on the board probably would not offend against good governance. But maybe – given the recent history and after the council’s CEO attempted to break charity law with a proposed takeover of the Fairfield – now is the time for some distance to rebuild trust.

  4. I agree completely with your comments about FH being ‘favourited’ over other venues, leading to the loss of the Warehouse, and the closure of the David Lean cinema – though happily not permanently in the latter’s case. However I agree with Adrian that there is a query about how, if the council is going to continue to provide so much public money for the Fairfield Halls, that spending is going to be monitored with no councillors at all on the board? The council can’t have a relationship like that of any leaseholder to any tenant when they also provide a proportion of the income of that tenant.

    • Any leaseholder is ultimately responsible for the upkeep of their property. So as the owner, Croydon Council is rightly paying for the overhaul of the Fairfield Halls.

      It doesn’t need to have councillors board members to determine what building work is required, nor to determine the venues’ artistic policy, to do that.

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