Britain’s beleaguered Royal Institution is once again under scrutiny for its finances. The Guardian reports that the venerable institution has violated charity law when leasing office space to a senior board member.
The Royal Institution has survived since 1799 and is Britain’s oldest independent scientific research organization. Its laboratories have been home to famous scientists such as Lawrence Brag and Michael Faraday, and more recently it has been known for its beloved “Christmas lectures”, which are broadcast to science enthusiasts around the country.
But the RI has had its fair share of financial troubles this century. In 2006 it brought in Susan Greenfield, a prominent and at times controversial Oxford neuroscientist, to give it a facelift. Greenfield undertook a £22 million refurbishment of the RI’s central London headquarters.
The new headquarters building looks great, but late last year it emerged that the RI had struggled to finance it. To pay for the works, the RI sold off several downtown properties and dipped into restricted endowment funds.
The fun came to an end last autumn when the Charities Commission, which oversees UK non-profits, caught wind of the unauthorized use of the endowment money. Members of the board voted to oust Greenfield in December, and she is now suing the RI for sexual discrimination.
Meanwhile it seems that the problems at the RI run deeper than Greenfield’s renovations. The latest article reports that the Charities Commission is now actively investigating the RI for leasing some of its office space to the company of Adrian de Ferranti, who chairs the RI’s board. Not reporting such a lease for approval by the commission is a violation of a 1993 charity law in the UK.
It’s unclear what the fallout from the latest missteps will be. The RI’s chief executive, Chris Rofe, is quoted by the Guardian as saying that the RI is “in the process of clarifying the information required to enable us to fully comply”.
Image: photograph of the RI by Matt From London via Flickr under Creative Commons.