Minister warns Island Health trustees to co-operate with investigation into Isle of Dogs charity funds
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A government minister has stepped into the controversy over funds and assets held by Island Health Trust warning its trustees to cooperate with an investigation into why £350,000 was paid into the chair’s bank account.
Media and Culture State Secretary Tracey Crouch was responding to Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick when she told Parliament late last night that if the probe by the Charities Commission uncovers criminal offences it will pass the evidence to the police.
“It’s important that all current and former trustees cooperate fully with the Commission in their investigation,” she told MPs.
“The inquiry remains a priority to conclude as soon as possible, to establish if there has been mismanagement.
“The collective responsibility for ensuring a charity is properly run rests with its trustees—they all have a legal duty to ensure that the charity lawfully fulfils its purposes.”
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The response came at the end of a 30-minute debate led by Mr Fitzpatrick which brought the two-year controversy to parliament over the way the health trust on the Isle of Dogs is being run, with its accumulated £1.3million in public funds.
Large sums of NHS fees were being paid into the chair Suzanne Goodband’s bank account, MPs heard.
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Mr Fitzpatrick told the Commons: “The trust has accumulated £1.3m. There are also serious questions about the £349,000 paid to a consulting company solely owned by Suzanne Goodband which is 68 per cent of the charity’s income over two years.”
He slammed trustees he says agreed to pay the cash to her company and were also pricing out GPs and other medical services from the centre by increasing service charges.
“There are concerns about the trustees’ ulterior motives and the future use and development of the building,” Mr Fitzpatrick told the Commons.
“There are suggestions that there are plans to develop and build on the site which is high land value.”
But he was scathing about the way the charity’s constitution was altered, allowing money to be paid into the Goodband account.
“Trustees approving payment for periods before they were appointed as trustees seems to me to border on fraud and possibly criminal,” he said.
“Resolutions altering the constitution of the trust, which had a quorum of three when one of them was absent, puts into question the legality of such changes as being ‘legal’—and again the spectre of fraud arises.”
There were also doubts about alleged grants made by the trust. Accounts detailing ‘grants’ that were actually costs such as deep-cleaning which he said was never a ‘grant’. MPs were told: “This seems to be a defensive move that suggests the trust was making grants in line with its constitution—but is clearly false.”
There is “serious unhappiness” that a much-used, needed and appreciated health centre with professional clinicians and caring staff has been “bled by people who should be cherishing, nourishing and promoting it”, the Commons heard.
But there was criticism of the Charities Commission which at first assumed trustees were acting within the terms of the charity’s constitution, until a “whistle-blowing” trustee had pointed out that the constitution was changed without a legal quorum during his absence when it subsequently launched an investigation in November.
“The Charities Commission responsible for protecting public money and the good name of organisations that receive that money could have acted more quickly,” Mr Fitzpatrick pointed out.
“Money that should have been used for the health and wealth of local citizens, instead, sits in the bank account of an individual who boasts of getting round the rules. She has had a chequered (career) history who previously resigned from an NHS trust after just seven months.
“This is a serious issue—there is disbelief that what’s happened is not only questionable is wrong and could be criminal.”
Public calls for Suzanne Goodband to step down have been made by the MP and by Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs, following a unanimous council vote a year ago and a public meeting on the Isle of Dogs in September.