18th September 2018
Established 1872. Online since 1996.

Momentous decision (Drew Ratter and Jonathan Wills)

Next Thursday, 28th June, trustees of the Shetland Charitable Trust must take a decision that will affect the inhabitants of these islands for generations to come: whether to continue to invest in the Viking windfarm and earn the community several hundred million pounds over coming decades; or to sell the trust’s current shareholding now, for over £50m; or to do nothing. Doing nothing will result in the trust’s share in the project being diluted, with Shetland’s control over the now inevitable development lost, and eventually, possibly Shetland’s whole share lost, as the SCT’s share passes to the other partners, if we fail to meet our obligations under the joint venture agreement.

There has been much talk about conflicts of interest. Trustees now have clear legal advice from the foremost charity law experts in Scotland. They tell us that, when councillor trustees vote on the windfarm investment next week, they will not have a conflict of interest.

However, there still appears to be confusion over this point among some members of the public. We would like to clear up that confusion. It is easy to do so, as the situation is very straightforward.

Whichever way trustees vote next Thursday, the council, as a landowner, will still receive payments from the windfarm. Whether the trust remains a major investor or not is irrelevant to that. The windfarm is going to happen anyway because the Scottish government (not the council) has approved the planning application, whatever some of us might have wished. So the trust vote on further investment cannot affect the council’s interests one way or the other. So there is no conflict. We think it is important for the public to know that the mere fact of being both a councillor and a trustee does not prevent that person attending the meeting or taking part in this momentous decision.

If trustees’ interests are private ones they should, of course, be declared in the normal way, but that need not necessarily preclude such trustees from taking part in the vote. Legal advice on this will be available before the meeting.

If we have yet another farcical situation where the trust cannot muster a quorum to consider this question, it would not be a surprise if the Scottish Charity Regulator considered stepping in. OSCR’s options could include disqualifying some or all of the existing trustees; appointing new ones; directing the trust to invest or not to invest; taking direct control of the £200m assets; and removing for all time the direct connection between the trust and elected representatives of the community. That is how very grave and dangerous this situation has become.

In our view, all those trustees who are able to be present and to vote have a clear duty to do so, whichever option they decide to support after calmly and rationally considering all the facts, arguments and expert recommendations.

Drew Ratter

Chairman

Jonathan Wills

Vice-chairman

Shetland Charitable Trust.

6 comments

  1. John Tulloch

    Sorry, boys,

    Receiving planning permission isn’t the same thing as making an investment – I’m surprised that two such eminent intellects would make such an egregious conflation of two obviously separate decisions made by completely separate bodies, each with their own interests.

    If Shetland wants a wind farm Shetland should have one but you guys are spinning faster than any turbine I’ve ever seen.

    Reply
  2. Ian Tinkler

    Why have Drew and Jonathan failed to publish their legal advice? Why not name the source of this advise for public scrutiny? Why the secresy? do leopards never change their spots?

    Reply
  3. Sandy McMillan

    If Councillor Wills were to take an interest in his Constituents, instead of these whirrly gigs, he may make a better Councillor.
    Sandy McMillan

    Reply
  4. Andy Holt

    Sir, I have read the following a number of times and remain puzzled by the logic of the advice from m’learned freind, ” The council will receive payments from the windfarm. Whether the trust remains a major investor or not is irrelevant. The windfarm is going to happen anyway…. And here’s the bit where the arguement seems to fall down “So the trust vote on further investment cannot affect the council’s interests one way or another. So there is no conflict.” Messrs Wills and Ratter are in denial if they cannot see that councillor trustees in their understandable desperation to solve our current financial problems might see the Viking energy scheme as a way out and vote accordingly, thus tying the interests of the trust even closer to the interests of the council and therefore demonstrating a clear conflict of interest.

    Reply
  5. John Tulloch

    I hoop I dunna hae ta play dis twa at da Five Hunder’ – dey choost sook oot aa your trumph and dan dey come in wi der Choker at da very end.

    Reply
  6. James Paton

    Why indeed could the Trust not just settle for rental income, on the basis of the value of the developed land re Sctos law rather than feeling it has to invest in the industry itself as Mr Tulloch points out. Would the Council/Trust, if it had been able to, have invested in the actual physical cost of building Sullom Voe Terminal I wonder, bearing in mind the huge costs of refurbing it (CUI project) and the huge costs involved in its eventual decommissioning. Wind turbines have quite a shorter life span are inefficient and far from carbon neutral. Many of us, including myself, actually don’t mind the look of them, but I, like those voting for this proposal do not have to live beside them. Sometimes the minority are right and history will prove them so in this regard. Just hope the income is used and manage more wisely – ethical investment boys? Or is that not ‘practical’?

    Reply

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