Craig Hassall succeeds outgoing chief executive Chris Cotton after a record-breaking 2015, in which the hall achieved its highest-ever level of income per show
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At the request of the Charity Commission, the iconic London venue is to be referred to a tribunal over conflict of interest concerns on its governing body
By Jon Chapple on 15 Jan 2018
The Royal Albert Hall is to be referred to a charity tribunal over concerns its trustees – seat owners who control the London venue, but can also profit from selling tickets – have a conflict of interest.
According to Saturday’s Daily Telegraph, the attorney-general for England and Wales, Jeremy Wright MP, has agreed to refer the long-running dispute over the governance of the 5,272-seat venue – which is owned by a charity, the Corporation of the Hall of Arts and Sciences – to a judge-led tribunal to settle the question of whether trustees should be free to sell tickets to their seats, often at a considerable mark-up, while also controlling its governing board.
Charities regulator the Charity Commission says the ability of Royal Albert Hall trustees, many of whom are descendants of those who financed the hall’s construction in the 1860s, to profit from ticket selling represents an “inherent unresolvable conflict of interest in its governance”.
The London Times reports around a quarter of the venue’s seats are owned by 350 members, who are entitled to vote in elections for its governing council.
In addition to those who inherited their seats, promoter Harvey Goldsmith said last January that there are a “small number of debenture [seat] holders who have been accumulating seats and boxes only for commercial gain by running a business of reselling those tickets to the highest bidder”, calling the practice “absolutely disgraceful”.
“We have been engaged with the hall for some time and, while progress has been made in some areas, the central issue of how to deal with the conflicts of interest, and suggested private benefit, remain unresolved, and the hall has shown minimal appetite to address these,” says the Charity Commission in a statement. “Due to the complex nature of these matters, we gained the consent of the attorney-general to refer a number of questions to the charity tribunal.”
“The commission has chosen to refuse to meet us, while pursuing what has been a costly and drawn-out route”
Despite the claims of trustee wrongdoing, Royal Albert Hall president Jon Moynihan OBE says the issue has been blown out of proportion. “It has been suggested unfairly that council members might be using their position to maximise their returns from their seats: in fact, the large majority of seatholder council members own very few seats, so have little such pecuniary motive (I share ownership of a five-seat box with an old friend, and make no money from it),” he wrote earlier this year. “No council member is paid a penny in remuneration or expense.”
He adds the venue is “not in a position to forbid the exercise of a legally conferred right” – for trustees to give away their tickets, donate them to charity, send them back to venue or sell at a price of their choosing – “without which the hall would not have been built.”
A spokesperson for the Royal Albert Hall says it is “disappointed to hear that the Charity Commission has taken this route.
“Over many years, the hall has engaged in a meaningful way to resolve what is a complex set of issues; however the commission has chosen to refuse to meet us, while pursuing what has been a costly and drawn-out route.
“While we will, of course, cooperate with this process, our focus will remain on entertaining audiences and to enhance our considerable charitable activities.”
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