Major reform of charitable trust looms – but councillors would retain control
Seven non-councillors would be selected to sit as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust alongside eight councillors under a long-awaited proposal for reform.
Although the proposed split means Shetland Islands Council members would still retain control over the trust, the local authority’s stranglehold on the £200 million oil fund would be considerably weakened for the first time in the trust’s 33 year history.
Public reaction to the reform proposal is now being sought before the existing 23 trustees vote on the matter early next year.
If the change is agreed and implemented next year it means seven non-councillors could be given the chance to vote in the biggest decision facing Shetland – whether or not to invest in the Viking windfarm – as well as playing a role in the spending of the £13m a year in assistance dished out by the trust.
Under the proposed reform, selection of independent trustees would remain in the hands of trustees who would interview and vote on their preferred candidates after the trusteeships were advertised publicly.
Candidates selected for the expenses-only posts would be expected to have an understanding of the role of public services and an interest in the sectors aided by the charitable trust, such as care and welfare, arts, sport, the environment and Shetland heritage.
High on the list of desirable attributes would be experience of finance and investment, being a strategic thinker with a challenging and enterprising mind and having no conflicts of interest with the work done by the trust.
Views on the reform proposal are being sought until Friday 18th December by trust general manager Ann Black.
The proposal results from months of deliberation by the trust’s governance review group, consisting of six councillor-trustees and the two existing independents. Once the community expresses its views on the proposal the review group will table its final set of reform proposals to a full meeting of the trust.
Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness has maintained his total opposition to changing the way the trust operates because it had worked well and the electorate knew when they voted that all councillors became trustees.
The overhaul was ordered by the new charities watchdog the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) which insisted the trust had to show “better and more obvious evidence of independence” from the council if it wished to retain its charitable status, which saves it about £3 million a year in tax. It also follows a recent clamour within Shetland for an end to council domination of the trust and its activities.
The issue rose to prominence locally due to a perception that councillor-trustees had an irreconcilable conflict of interest in making decisions on funding council-generated projects, such as the proposed Viking Energy windfarm. A group call the Trusts Reform Group was set up last year but quickly lost its momentum.
It has taken the trust all this year to put in train its move towards reform. OSCR had wanted proposals by July but the trust asked for an extension for its deliberations.
The review group was made up of trust chairman Bill Manson, vice-chairman Jim Henry, independent trustees John Scott and Valerie Nicolson and councillors Frank Robertson, Florence Grains and Josie Simpson. Allan Wishart resigned as a trustee in August to work for Viking Energy.
The full proposals can be viewed on the trust’s website. Dr Black can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing at 22-24 North Road, Lerwick, ZE1 0NQ.