National Trust: We're no clique

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The Independent Online
Leaders of the National Trust called for less confrontation and better communication as members urged greater openness in the running of Britain's largest charity.

Charles Nunneley, addressing 1,000 members at the Trust's AGM in London, rejected accusations in a series of letters to The Independent recently that the Trust leadership was "arrogant, elitist and dominated by an aristocratic landowning clique". Mr Nunneley said: "I take criticisms like that very seriously, because they show that we have failed in our duty of communicating the true state of affairs to our members and the world at large."

A resolution to require disclosure of how the chairman casts the thousands of unmandated votes at his disposal each AGM was rejected by 42,284 votes to 20,577. With Mr Nunneley and the council against what they regarded as a "meddlesome" motion, the result was never in doubt.

Supporters of the change argued that greater transparency would have enabled members who voted in past years against hunting on Trust land to know whether many grassroots members opposed them or just the council. But Mr Nunneley pointed out that members who gave the chairman unmandated proxies did so knowing the council's position.

The "block vote" also ensured the reelection of nine sitting members of the policy- making council for another three-year term - filling the only vacancies. Eight would-be newcomers failed to get elected.

Mr Nunneley said there had certainly been occasions when the atmosphere had been "more of confrontation than of communication". As to elitism, he said that of the 52 council members, eight had titles (just one lord) but that did not seem to him "to matter a tinker's cuss one way or the other". There were 36 men and 26 women; 14 members were linked with academia, eight had top level experience in business and management and six were large-scale farmers and landowners.