Trustees slammed by regulator for 'costly and damaging' dispute

A row among trustees over the sale of land access rights has been labelled by the Charity Commission as “mismanagement” and criticised for being “costly to the charity”.

The regulator investigated Wimbledon and Putney Commons Conservators, which looks after the open space in London, following a dispute among trustees over its sale of land access rights to Wandsworth Borough Council in 2014 for access to a school and flats.

But the sale led to “damaging disputes” between trustees over whether it was undervalued or in the best interests of the charity, found the regulator.

The regulator is critical of trustees in post at the charity between 2015 and 2018 for their “inability” to handle the dispute and concluded there had been “evidence of mismanagement”.

In delivering its findings the regulator stressed that it was not making any decision about the sale of land access rights, which are known as an easement.

“All too often we see differences of opinion amongst charity trustees deteriorate into entrenched disputes,” said the Charity Commission’s direct of regulatory services Helen Earner.

“We would expect charities to resolve such disputes themselves, before they damage the charity’s reputation and deplete its funds. Unfortunately, in this case, the trustees failed to make this happen, to the detriment of the charity.

“I am encouraged by steps we are seeing towards improved governance, and increased transparency and accountability at the charity. I expect progress to continue, with trustees living up to the high standards of behaviour and conduct that the public rightly expect of charities.”

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