Political storm mounts as chairman insists support for trust meeting is strong
Shetland Charitable Trust faces a political storm on Monday when seven trustees try to force through a debate on £6.3 million funding for the Viking windfarm.
The seven came together to use their combined powers under the trust’s administrative regulations to requisition a special trust meeting.
Trust chairman Bill Manson, who also chairs Viking Energy, believes possibly another five trustees also wish to have a meeting, which could provide a quorum of 12 to allow business to proceed. However, he said today he did not know if they were all able to make it for the meeting at 10am on Monday in The Shetland Hotel.
Asked if the trust was walking straight into a public relations disaster, Mr Manson declined to comment in detail, saying only that he was “always concerned about the trust’s image”.
After two failed meetings to discuss Viking, he said there was a feeling of frustration that it was not possible for a majority of trustees to have their wish to discuss windfarm funding, regardless of whether or not they are in favour of the investment.
The seven who took advantage of the special power to call a meeting were Betty Fullerton, Josie Simpson, Gussie Angus, Jim Budge, Andrew Hughson, Addie Doull and Robert Henderson.
Only Mr Henderson is standing to return as a councillor and trustee in Thursday’s elections.
News of the snap meeting has provoked an outcry from windfarm opponents with questions asked as to the “morality” of outgoing trustees seeking to agree funding at the last minute which would bind the new intake of trustees in May.
But even within the trust it has caused ructions. Trust vice-chairman Jim Henry resigned from his position, believing that the decision should be left for the next trust which meets for the first time on 24th May.
He will continue as a trustee until the eve of the council elections on Thursday.
Mr Henry would have been required to chair Monday’s meeting. He presided over the rowdy and short-lived meeting last week which became inquorate when six councillors declared an interest and left.
The anti-Viking group Sustainable Shetland is expected to make its presence felt again on Monday with supporters flocking to the hotel to protest and witness the proceedings.
Mr Manson will open the high-pressure meeting and seek nominations for a temporary chairman. He will then have to leave due to his conflict of interest as Viking chairman. Fellow Viking directors Alastair Cooper and Caroline Miller will do likewise, if they attend.
Among the others expected to walk out, if they attend, are Allison Duncan, Florence Grains and Frank Robertson.
Even if fewer than 12 of the 17 eligible trustees are left sitting in the St Catherine’s Suite it is expected that the seven who called the meeting and possibly some colleagues will seek to have their say. Any discussion or votes taken would not be binding on the trust.
One possible candidate to chair the session is independent trustee Bobby Hunter who will be the trust’s acting chairman between the council elections and the first official meeting of the new trust.
He said today he had not been approached about his willingness to stand in on Monday. He said he had not really thought yet about the implications of the special meeting being called yesterday.
The trust and its partners in the windfarm, Scottish and Southern Energy and Viking Wind Limited, are at the stage of committing to spending £14 million to take the project to the final decision stage, which is expected to take less than two years. Despite the trust’s failure to agree its £6.3 million share its partners have yet to take action to penalise it. But without funds the trust may soon have to sell its asset.
Consultants Quayle Munro, hired by Viking, have estimated that the project is already worth around £58.5 million to the trust if it has to sell now. If it invests another £6.3 million and continues to the stage where the windfarm is ready to go it could sell out then for over £141 million.