THE £1.5 million sale of a 17th century St Ouen property by the National Trust for Jersey lacked transparency, the charity watchdog has concluded.
Jersey Charity Commissioner John Mills – who investigated the private sale – said the trust could not demonstrate that it had achieved the best value for the cottage in Route de Trodez, which was not put on the open market last summer.
Although maintaining that the deal represented the best value, the National Trust conceded that an open tender would have been more transparent, and it says it will only sell property this way in future.
Mr Mills initiated his investigation after the trust was criticised for the sale of ‘La Ronce’, which the charity announced last August after it had received an ‘unsolicited offer’.
It said the proceeds for the sale would be used to refurbish two other properties in its estate.
In a statement, Mr Mills said: ‘The heart of the matter was whether a sale by private treaty, however seemingly justified as to best value both by policy and through valuations requested from local estate agents, could ever serve the best interests of the charity, compared with a normal open market process.
‘This consideration was perhaps heightened given the special character of the property in question. [Mr Alluto’s] post hoc statement was certainly, in the commissioner’s view, a helpfully frank thing for him to have said but it was after the event.
‘Even if the trust took the view, which it did (and still does) that the sale price was good having regard to all relevant factors, including the state of the property market, as viewed at the time, there was left, in the commissioner’s view, scope for the perception that it, the trust, could not have been sure about that and could have demonstrated it beyond doubt only through an open market process.’
Mr Mills said he welcomed the trust’s decision to put a new policy in place requiring all future sales to be open market procedures managed by third party professionals.
He added that he had come to the view from the materials which he reviewed that some weaknesses of governance were apparent in the way the trust went about decision-making on the sale, over and above the question of transparency.
‘These included a seeming degree of unclearness in its rules and policies as to what type of property it judged it felt empowered to sell, and less than wholly satisfactory procedures for ensuring that at both Council and management levels perceived or actual conflicts of interest arising from a property contract were declared, recorded and addressed,’ he said.
In response to the investigation, the National Trust said: ‘The trust’s council remains of the view that the sale of La Ronce was essential to release much needed equity for the repair and refurbishment of the historic buildings in its care.
‘The council believes that the price achieved represented good value and was based upon independent professional valuations at the time of the offer.
‘The price also significantly exceeded the increase in the Jersey House Price Index since the previous professional valuations secured 12 months earlier.
‘However, the trust’s council acknowledges that greater transparency would have been afforded if the property had been placed on the open market and will ensure that such procedures are followed for any future disposals.’