Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Harold Le Seeleur: A Betrayal of Trust by the States?

For ages, the Le Seeleur buildings in St Helier have remained empty, as the terms of the original trust meant that the use was tightly restricted. Gradually they have fallen into decay, and only recently has scaffolding been erected, and the buildings restored to a better condition. The reason for this, as became apparent after a Ministerial decision by the Health Minister, Deputy Anne Pryke  - is that they are about to be sold.
"The Minister accepted the investment strategy and recommendations for the Le Seeleur Trust Property Assets as detailed in the report provided by Jersey Property Holdings (JPH). The Minister authorised JPH to implement the property recommendations which include the sale of the Oxford Road workshop and 9 Chevalier Road properties in the first instance. The Minister requested that the Treasurer invest the non-property (cash) assets of the fund in the Common Investment Fund."
Now one question which obviously springs to mind is about the capital generated by the sale of the properties. Is it better to use taxpayers money to repair the ravages of time and make the property available for sale, or would it have been better to sell it at a lower price, and let the buyer take on the task of refurbishment and repair?
How much, in fact, has been spent on repairing the building prior to sale? In April 1998, the Employment and Social Security Committee approved the principle of "buying" the property from the Le Seeleur Fund.
The property had been designated as a Site of Special Interest (SSI), and the requirements for the refurbishment as an SSI were quite onerous. The estimated cost of the proposed scheme of refurbishment at the time was in the order of £1.8 million. The Committee could not secure the funding to be able to proceed with the scheme.
But let's backtrack, and have some history on these buildings. They were given in trust to the States, and the restrictions on them are rather strange. As Deputy John  Le Fondré explained in 2010:
"The will of the late H.E. Le Seeleur requires that the States of Jersey consult with his executors on the use of the properties - this is the nub - with a particular view that the properties be used for the benefit of aged, infirm and needy residents of the Island. Therefore, any benefit from those properties should be for residents who are aged and infirm and needy. It cannot be for one or the other but must meet all 3 criteria, and that is one of the problems we faced in the history on this building."
"There are further features of the consequences that come out of this. The building cannot be handed over free gratis as a sheltered workshop, for example, because that would not meet the terms of the will. However, the properties could be used to generate a commercial return, for example, through rental or disposal, and that return can be used for the benefit of the aged, needy and infirm. For example, the property could be sold and the proceeds either reinvested to generate income or used for the benefit of the aged, needy and infirm."
Now note his reply - when he was Assistant Minister for Treasury and Resources - that the terms of the will allow for the building to be sold - "and the proceeds either reinvested to generate income or used ".
In other words, the sale of the property can generate funds, which can be more easily utilised that the buildings, but they must be earmarked "for the benefit of the aged, needy and infirm". Now there are people in the Community who certainly satisfy all three criteria, so there is certainly not the same impediment towards the use of the funds from a sale to improve their lot.
But now the Ministerial decision says: "The Minister requested that the Treasurer invest the non-property (cash) assets of the fund in the Common Investment Fund."
There does not seem to be anything about restrictions. In fact, it seems as if the whole terms of the will are being abrogated by this sale.
This is very different from the position taken by Senator Ben Shenton in 2007, when he commented as follows on a decision to sell (back then, but not coming to fruition):
"The Minister for Health and Social Services has given approval for Property Holdings to progress the disposal of the property on behalf of the Le Seeleur Fund, which wishes to invest the receipt from the sale of Le Seeleur Workshop together with other of its funds into another substantial property with a full rental income and which will provide benefit for health services that need to be provided for the aged, infirm and needy residents of the Island."
And he added this:
"It cannot be morally correct for the Le Seeleur Fund to be deprived of funding from properties which a previous decision of the States has placed within the administration of the Minister for Health and Social Services for the purposes intended by Mr. Le Seeleur.
Is this recent decision to sell, and place the funds from a sale of the property just into the general "pot" - the Common Investment Fund, a betrayal of the will of Harold Le Seeleur?

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