Undue influence? (Rosa Steppanova)
In relation to the cancelled SCT meeting of 30th April, Ann Black, chief executive of Shetland Charitable Trust, states in her press release: “I appreciate trustees’ frustration at not being able to debate or discuss this matter.”
As far as I can ascertain, there was nothing in the OSCR directive preventing them from doing so. Trustees were free to discuss or debate “this matter” (further funds for VE) to their hearts’ content, from the date and time of the meeting until 12pm on 2nd May, to be precise. This begs the question if trustees were correctly advised by SCT officials. If so, their “frustration” seems somewhat disingenuous.
One of the reasons for the OSCR intervention is: “This particular project and any investment in it by the Trust, has been the subject of divided opinion not only between the current trustees, but also in the community served by the charity” (OSCR inquiry report).
We’ve been told countless times that the proposed windfarm is a community project. Apart from spending the community’s money, I’ve seen no evidence of any community involvement to date, quite the opposite in fact: secrecy, prevarication and spin. Openness and transparency from VE and SCT might go some way towards healing the divide in our community.
SCT says on its website: Our aim is to provide public benefit to and improve the quality of life for the people of Shetland, especially in the areas of:
• Social care and welfare;
• Arts, culture, sport and recreation;
• The environment, natural history and heritage.
It seems SCT has all but abandoned some of these noble aims, which makes me wonder whether not only trustees, but also officials, are under undue influence from VE. The project can hardly improve the quality of life for those having to live within close proximity to turbines, if it ever sees the light of day, and, with even the longest stretch of the imagination, it can hardly be said to benefit our environment.
The question of undue influence also brings into doubt the equality of trustees in regard to openness and transparency between trustees and trustees and officials. It has become clear from recent events that some trustees receive more information than others, or worse, some are informed, while others are left in the dark and have to rely on members of the public to bring them up to date on SCT decisions.
The OSCR report further states: “In this context [trustee and community division] trustees require to be particularly careful to make investment decisions with due care and diligence and with all the relevant independent advice that is appropriate – both legal and financial.”
What, if any, relevant and independent legal advice was given to the seven trustees who demanded this meeting?
What, if any, relevant and independent financial advice, apart from Quayle and Munro calculations regarding windfarm profit, which, according to SCT financial controller Jeff Goddard might be “in the right ball park”, was given to SCT trustees?
To restore even a vestige of public confidence in SCT, trustees are well advised to exercise due care and diligence in all their dealings with VE from now on, and not least by demanding truly independent financial advice before another penny is handed over.
Jeff Goddard’s financial report for the SCT meeting of 16th April included the “confidential” appendix B, which gives a scant and rather amateurish breakdown of how the £6.3 million, demanded by VE, is going to be spent. Why was this kept from the community, whose project, we’re told, this is?
This appendix, since widely leaked, tells me that VE plans to spend £150,000 on its habitat management plan, and £250,000 on PR. Skewed priorities aside, SCT trustees could save the Shetland population a quarter of a million pounds by demanding that VE at long last respond to the many questions put to them by members of this community over the years, rather than spending another fortune on propaganda and lobbying.