Fresh Ally Pally report leads to resignation calls

Charlotte Newton THE publication of a new Alexandra Palace report this week has led to fresh calls for Cllr Charles Adje to be sacked from his role as borough finance chief. Independent investigator Martin Walklate s second report into the fiasco conclude

Charlotte Newton

THE publication of a new Alexandra Palace report this week has led to fresh calls for Cllr Charles Adje to be sacked from his role as borough finance chief.

Independent investigator Martin Walklate's second report into the fiasco concluded that the decision to grant property development company Firoka a licence to trade at Ally Pally has cost the trust �1.5million.

Mr Walklate, whose first report was fiercely critical of the Alexandra Palace Trust's performance under Cllr Adje, has now published a review into the conduct of the general manager Keith Holder to ascertain why the trust granted such a favourable licence to Firoka, owned by Firoz Kassam.

Part of the deal was that almost �800,000 in wages for seconded staff was paid by the trust while Firoka was pocketing all the profits from events and activities at the palace. Mr Walklate strongly suggests that this was a "sweetener" to keep Firoka interested in signing a 125-year lease.

Cllr Robert Gorrie, leader of Haringey Liberal Democrats, has this week called for Cllr Adje to be sacked if he does not resign.

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Cllr Gorrie said: "This report, commissioned by the council, admits a direct loss to the taxpayer of �1.5million from its own political meddling and basic management incompetence at Alexandra Palace.

"Yet no-one has resigned and the political leadership continues to try to pin the blame on a manager, in much the same way as losing �37million in Icelandic banks is blamed on external advisers.

"The individual responsible for both the loss in Alexandra Palace and the Icelandic bank investments is Cllr Adje. He is still in charge of the borough's finances.

"That is simply not acceptable and in the face of this latest damning report he needs to resign. If he does not I will be asking the leader of the council to remove him from his post."

The 135-year-old building is owned by the Alexandra Palace Charitable Trust and administered by Haringey Council. But two years ago the trust decided to lease it out to try to make a profit.

Firoka won the tender and announced plans to create a hotel and leisure complex but in October the High Court ruled the agreement could not go ahead.

Mr Justice Jeremy Sullivan said the consultation with residents about the deal had been "manifestly unfair" because the Charity Commission had failed to make the terms of the 125-year lease available to the public.

The damning report, published on Tuesday, concludes that entering into and maintaining the licence with Firoka between May 2007 to January 2008 cost the trust in the region of �1.5million.

It says the trustees were not given financial information of the effect of the licence continuation during the course of licence operation, nor were they given the opportunity to consider whether they wished to revoke the licence at previous stages of that operation.

Mr Walklate, who took evidence from key officials including the then council leader George Meehan, concludes that while Keith Holder created the licence which may have contributed to the loss, he cannot be held financially accountable under his contract of employment or his contract of consultancy.

Mr Holder claims he was under pressure from Cllr Adje, who was chairman of the board of trustees at the time, to ensure that the Firoka deal did not collapse.

Cllr Adje denies this allegation.

The licence enabled Firoka to operate within the Alexandra Palace buildings, while the trust provided staffing resources at its own cost and building and other infrastructure at no cost to Firoka.

Mr Kassam's company was entitled to all profits, including those from the ice rink.

The licence was abruptly terminated by the council in January 2008, following a High Court decision ruling that the leasing process was flawed.

Last week, Broadway revealed that Mr Kassam plans to sue the trust for more than �6million, the money he says Firoka would have made if its plans to run a hotel, casino and leisure complex from the palace had gone ahead.