Charities Commission inquiry into £1.3m Island Health Trust assets at Isle of Dogs
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A formal inquiry has been opened into the financial affairs of the controversial Island Health Trust in east London which holds £1.3 million public assets after a wave of protests and questions in Parliament.
The Poplar and Limehouse MP and Tower Hamlets councillors today welcomed the inquiry announced by the Charities Commission over the way the trust, which owns the premises of Island health centre on the Isle of Dogs, operates financially.
They challenge the “lack of transparency” about consultancy fees given to the Trust by the NHS last year. Public accounts show the chair of the trust, Suzanne Goodband, being paid nearly £180,000 which trustees handed to her company, Suzanne Goodband Solutions—she is its sole director, according to Companies House.
MP Jim Fitzpatrick who addressed a public meeting in Millwall in September revealing plans for a parliamentary debate over the funding, told the East London Advertiser today: “It’s only right the Trust is held to account—the inquiry follows months of meetings with the Charities Commission, councillors and residents.”
He put in for a Commons debate over the issue, arguing that the Health Department and Charities Commission both had “a role to protect public money and property”.
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The MP has written to ministers over the £1.3m assets the trust has built up while a doctors’ surgery has been forced to give up space on the first floor because of rocketing charges.
The trust, which was handed the premises in East Ferry Road next to the Asda supermarket, has already been referred to Tower Hamlets Council’s legal department.
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Tory opposition leader Peter Golds who has been campaigning for Island Health Trust to be made accountable for the public assets it holds, told the Advertiser today: “This inquiry is a genuine example of a community standing together and defending public services.
“We have to question whether the trustees are permitted to continue to attempt to rent out the first floor of Island Health centre and whether Susan Goodband is still receiving trust money for ‘consultative services’.”
He is calling for the fees to be returned and for “a genuine board that represent islanders” after a string of trustees in the past two years has came and gone—none living locally, one even living abroad.
The Charities Commission has told the paper it has been monitoring the trust’s governance and financial administration since February, after concerns were raised about its funds and “potential private benefit to one or more trustees”.
That was soon after a petition was handed into Tower Hamlets Council by pensioner Doris Penn, 83, founder member of the original trustee board for 22 years until local members were all replaced last year.
The premises were paid for with public funds from the Docklands Development Corporation and the local council in the 1980s, when the trust was set up “to hold the assets for the public”.
The Commission said in a statement today that it has concerns over whether spending these funds “on strategy development” falls wholly within the charity’s objects. Other issues were about trustees managing the charity’s resources “responsibly”.
The inquiry is to examine the extent to which trustees have managed the finances since 2012, spent funds on activities within the charity’s purposes and whether contracts or paying trustees or connected parties were adequately supervised.
The purpose of an inquiry is to investigate the facts so that the regulator can find out whether there has been mismanagement or misconduct, the Commission stresses. It wants to establish the extent of any risk to the charity’s property, beneficiaries or work and decide what action needs to be taken to resolve serious concerns.
Condemnation of Island Health Trust was voiced at Tower Hamlets Council in January by both Labour and Tory members who represent the Isle of Dogs. Labour’s Dave Chesterton, who chaired the Millwall public meeting in September, told the Advertiser at the time: “Island Health is a public asset paid for with public money, along with all the NHS money now paid to the trust. So their £250,000 yearly revenue is public money.”
But NHS services were now being priced out, including schools’ nurses, health visitors and district nurses.
Island Health Trust has operated within its charitable objectives, it told the Advertiser. It was “aware of the launch of a statutory inquiry by the Charity Commission”, but added that “it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time” while it was ongoing.
Public accounts showed £179,176 consultation fee paid in 2014-15 to the trustee chair’s wholly-owned company, Suzanne Goodband Solutions, set up in March, 2010, as a management consultancy private limited company in Northamptonshire. Its sole listed director was Suzanne Rose Goodband, with its head office listed as Sittingbourne in Kent.