Trustees agree to reform in light of £20,000 legal opinion
Trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) have agreed “in principle” to reform its governance arrangements and dilute SIC councillors’ control over the body following the receipt of advice from one of Scotland’s top lawyers.
At today’s SCT meeting trustees unanimously approved general manager Ann Black’s report, which asked them to “accept that the constitution of the trust must change” and in particular that “the majority of trustees should be drawn from outwith the council”.
A 39-page report from Roy Martin QC, published last month, said that in order to maintain its status as a charity the trust must demonstrate greater independence from the SIC by drastically reducing the number of councillors who are also trustees. At present 21 of the 23 trustees are councillors along with two independents, Lord Lieutenant John Scott and Anderson High School head teacher Valerie Nicolson.
Mr Martin’s legal advice was sought following a bad-tempered trust meeting last September at the behest of SIC convener Sandy Cluness, who is resolutely opposed to reforming the trust. The advice cost the council and trust around £20,000. Mr Cluness was not at today’s meeting.
A mandate has been approved for a working group to set out detailed proposals for reform, which will then be put before trustees. Mrs Nicolson, a member of the working group, described today’s move as a “key first step” in recognising the legal advice and sending a “signal” to the community and to charities regulator OSCR that “we do have a will to change”.
There remain reservations among several councillor-trustees about whether change will benefit the isles, mainly due to trepidation at the prospect of different factions controlling two bodies which share a common public interest. Trustee Alastair Cooper asked: “Will Shetland be any richer? I’m not sure it will be.”
Rick Nickerson pointed out that while being elected to the SIC “entitled” councillors to become a trustee “it doesn’t mean we have to accept”. Though he acknowledged there was now a consensus for reform, he still believed there was “no need for change”.
Clamour for reform has come from both OSCR and many in the Shetland community amid concern over a perceived conflict of interest in councillors’ dual role, particularly in relation to the Viking Energy windfarm.
Trustee Gussie Angus dismissed that, saying there had never been a proven example that an irreconcilable conflict of interest existed. He said there was also “a perception” among some that Elvis Presley is still alive and that there are trows in the Lang Kames.
The prevailing mood of the meeting, though, was summed up by Betty Fullerton, who accepted change would have to happen but said the way trustees were recruited and appointed must be thought about very carefully: “This is very much about Shetland’s future and [the current model] has served Shetland well over the past 30 years.”