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CABE chief's departure smacks of the knee-jerk and not reasoned decision

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CABE has not fallen foul of the Nolan principles; Stuart Lipton's personal conduct is not in doubt. So why does he have to go? According to the auditors' report, his crime is to hold the morally untenable position of being both a property developer and the chair of CABE.Strangely, this was not seen to be a problem when he served 10 years as a Royal Fine Arts Commissioner while simultaneously being involved with developments such as the Royal Opera House, the National Gallery, South Bank and Tate Modern. Nor when he was appointed to CABE in 1999, awarded a knighthood in 2000, or reappointed as chair of CABE in 2002.

Clearly the goalposts have been moved. In itself this is no bad thing - a healthy indication of the constant reassessment and scrutiny which are essential to allow any organisation to flourish and breathe. But they have been moved in rather too much of a hurry. The problem which the audit report has identified is not an emergency which calls for knee-jerk action but rather a potential problem; an acknowledgement that it is possible to envisage a situation where any individual who may, in the future, attempt to combine the roles of developer and chair of CABE could find themselves in a position where they are, or appear to be, compromised by a conflict of interest. It is a structural problem which should be given serious consideration and treated with the appropriate action at the appropriate time. In retrospect, it is easy to argue that such issues should have been taken into consideration at the time of Lipton's appointment or reappointment. But since they were not, there is another obvious moment to reconsider the definition of - and prerequisites for - the job; namely the appointment of Lipton's successor, a date which has always been scheduled for August 2005.

Instead, the audit report has made it impossible for Lipton to see out the duration of his tenure, leaving CABE to deal with the untimely departure of its leader, a hasty search for a successor, and a vacancy which many will now view as a poisoned chalice.

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