A BOARD member from the Malvern Hills Trust has resigned over a controversial “modernisation” process carried out last year.

John Watts resigned from the board over the Malvern Hills Trust’s move to reform its governance, which included reducing the number of board members and achieving charitable status.

This was rejected by the Charity Commission, who said “many of the precept payers had expressed concerns about the proposed changes.”

As a result, the trust must now seek to reform its governance by way of a Private Members’ Bill in Parliament.

Mr Watts said: “After several years of planning and spending in excess of £129,000 of precept payers’ money, the Charity Commission and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports have rejected the Malvern Hills Trust’s proposals for modernising the organisation.

“In an email to the Trust, the Charity Commission identified four reasons for the rejection: The Trust’s proposed changes were so far reaching that they were incompatible with the legislation being used by the Trust to agree the changes.

“The legislation being used allowed charities formed by Acts of Parliament to change the way they were administered. It did not allow for increases in powers that would involve the changing of other Acts of Parliament.

“The Trust’s proposals were much more than modernising the way it was run: it was also proposing an extensive increase in its powers. The Trust had chosen the wrong piece of legislation for such wide ranging proposals.”

As a result of these concerns, Mr Watts resigned from the board last week, and Trust CEO Duncan Bridges said although the Charity Commission had raised concerns, the Malvern Hills Trust followed the procedures laid out for them.

He said: “The Trust undertook a public consultation in September and October 2019 on proposals to update and amend its governing Acts.

“It was intended that the changes would be made using a Scheme made under s 73 Charities Act 2011. The overall response from the public to that consultation was positive, with the majority supportive of all but two of the proposals it contained.

“In March of this year the Trust was informed by the Charity Commission that the proposed changes to the governing Acts would be best undertaken by way of a Private Bill, rather than the section 73 route.

“A supporting statement was issued by the Charity Commission, dated March 11, 2020, which was published on our website.

“Shortly thereafter, all work on improving our governance arrangements and modernising the charity was suspended due to the current Covid pandemic.

“More recently at the meeting of the Board on September 10 it was announced that work on the matter would recommence, and the Trust would be gathering detailed information on the process for obtaining a private bill, including indicative costs and timescales.

“When those options have been identified, probably in the new year, the Board will be able to decide on how best to proceed with its long-overdue governance reforms.”

Mr Watts added the whole exercise, which was carried out last year, was a “waste of money”.

He said: “The ignoring of the many warnings – without even assessing the evidence – meant that opportunities to abandon the proposals before further public money were ignored.

“More than that, no risk assessment was ever carried out before embarking on committing public funds. This is a prima facie waste of public money.”

In March this year, DCMS released a response to the modernisation plans, saying the best way to proceed would be via a private members’ bill in parliament.

The statement said: “The amount of public interest the consultation generated was significant, particularly from precept payers of the charity, many of whom expressed concern about the proposed changes.