Town Estate told to 'restore public trust and confidence'

THURSDAY 9AM: Melton Town Estate has been told it must restore public trust and confidence in how it carries out its affairs.

A report by the Charity Commission seen by the Melton Times calls on the ancient charity to open itself up to public scrutiny and review the make up of its board of feoffees or trustees so it better reflects the community it serves.

The feoffees have come in for much criticism in recent years following a number of acrimonious annual town meetings and internal divisions over how the charity, which provides services including parks, recreational facilities and street markets, is run.

Last month the Town Estate was also the subject of a BBC Inside Out film and the feoffees' decision not to participate in the programme, according to the Charity Commission, 'left the impression that they were not open about their business and did not feel accountable to the public for their actions'.

The commission's comments came as it responded to proposals from the charity to update its rules under a new Scheme of Arrangement.

In a statement it said: "We have determined that the scheme should not be made at this time because we are not satisfied that making the scheme further's the commission's statutory objectives, in particular those relating to public trust and confidence and accountability.

"We consider that the complaints and allegations about the charity and its trustees must be resolved to the commission's satisfaction before a scheme can be made, and we have made a number of recommendations to the trustees."

The recommendations are centred around diversity and accountability with the review panel saying it was 'reasonable for the charity to seek to be as transparent as a local council'.

It says it could do this by holding open trustee meetings throughout the year, publishing minutes of meetings on its website, discussing its plans with its beneficiaries, carrying out formal consultations on significant issues and so on.

Senior Townwarden Richard Sage said the Town Estate had been responding to advice from the Charity Commission. "It would be unusual for a new scheme to be accepted first time. The commission is seeking clarification on several points and we are looking at where the sticking points are."

Chairman Ken Saunders declined to comment until the board of feoffees had had a chance to discuss the report. It is due to meet on January 18.