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New governance arrangements for Cardiff Council charities voted through

Cardiff County Hall (pic: Google Maps)

CARDIFF Council has approved plans to change the way it makes decisions on charities of which it is a trustee despite calls for them to wait for an opinion from the Charity Commission.

The new arrangements for trust governance will involve the setting up of two trust committees – a trusts cabinet committee, consisting of five cabinet members, and another trust advisory committee.

Setting up the new cabinet committee is intended to create a separation between the council’s role as a trustee and its ordinary functions as a local authority.

The trust advisory committee, which would be made up of non-councillors from the standards and ethics and governance and audit committees, would be there to make recommendations to the trust cabinet committee on a charity decision where a serious conflict of interest arises.

At a full council meeting on Thursday, March 28, Conservative councillor Joel Williams called for the council to wait before making a decision on the governance changes.

He said: “It is important that we get it right. I don’t think we are going to harm ourselves to wait for the Charity Commission to comment.

“Let’s pause, let’s send it to the Charity Commission and invite their views and observations.”

Cllr Joel Williams (Pic: Joel Williams)

Fellow Conservative group member Cllr Adrian Robson also raised concerns about the report before him.

He said: “Those trusts have to act completely independent of the council… what I would like to see is more involvement of independent members.”

He also suggested that members of the proposed independent advisory committee “should not necessarily be standards and ethics committee members” and said it provided an opportunity to bring in experts to have their say on charity matters.

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Cardiff Council is the sole trustee of seven charities. These are:

  • Maindy Park Trust
  • Llandaff War Memorial Fund
  • Cardiff Further Education Trust Fund
  • Heath Public Recreation or Pleasure Ground
  • King George’s Field the Heath
  • Playing Field
  • Norweigian Church Preservation Trust

Liberal Democrat councillor, Cllr Joe Carter, raised similar concerns to those of Cllr Williams at a policy review and performance scrutiny committee earlier this month.

At that meeting he said: “Is there a risk that we have jumped the gun here somewhat? Why have we rushed this now rather than waiting to hear back from the Charity Commission?”

Cardiff Council’s monitoring officer, Debbie Marles, disagreed with Cllr Carter’s comment at that meeting, responding: I don’t think we have jumped the gun. The proposal reflects general guidance from the Charity Commission.

“It also reflects counsel opinion and also… I am conscious that we could be waiting some time yet for a final view from the Charity Commission on the Maindy Park matter.”

In March 2023 cabinet members approved a recommendation from an independent advisory committee, the Maindy Park Trust Advisory Committee, to swap charity land at Maindy Park with land at Caedelyn Park in Rhiwbina to make way for the expansion of Cathays High.

If given ultimate approval by the Charity Commission it will mean the demolition of Maindy Velodrome.

Campaigners who have opposed the demolition of the velodrome and expansion into Maindy Park for years have since raised concerns about how the council’s conflict of interest was managed in the creation of the Maindy Park Advisory Committee and the subsequent cabinet decision.

Cardiff Council provided further information requested of it by the Charity Commission on the governance of Maindy Park Trust.

The Charity Commission said this month that it is considering the council’s response and whether any more information is needed.

Ms Marles added that she “would not want the council to be in a situation where potential decisions are gong to be delayed because we are waiting for a decision from the Charity Commission”.

She continued: “I am satisfied that this is an appropriate governance structure to take the council forward in taking its decision.”

As part of the new governance arrangements members on the new committee will be required to undertake necessary training to carry out their duties.

The leader of Cardiff Council, Cllr Huw Thomas, said: “The proposal around establishing an independent advisory committee… is a matter which was suggested appropriate by council advice back when we looked at the Maindy issue.

“I have absolute faith in those individuals to carry out their duties on this committee… with an open mind.”