Pensioners’ bonus slashed

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The Christmas grant scheme for pensioners and disabled people is to be cut to a quarter of its present level, Shetland Charitable Trust has decided.

Trustees voted by seven to three to pare back the £361,800 Christmas bonus to £100,000 despite the impassioned pleas of a minority of trustees led by Allison “Flea” Duncan.

Councillor Allison Duncan said he was fighting for what he saw as justice.

Councillor Allison Duncan said he was fighting for what he saw as justice.

The smaller fund will be disbursed by the SIC’s social work department, but the trust will continue to point applicants in the right direction should they approach the trust directly.

The savings will go back in the trust’s finance pot and it was agreed that more money might be made available to the new scheme if it is needed.

There was a collision of ideas of how most fairly to target the neediest members of society at the meeting in Islesburgh Community Centre today.

What was agreed will be looked at again in the next year’s “review of disbursements” which happens at the end of the three-year financial timetable.

But in cutting the Christmas grant scheme at this time the trust has chosen to “fast-track” it ahead of the wider review, owing to administrative difficulties.

While the government and council staff may have access to personal financial details of applicants, these are not shared with the charitable trust.

Trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills moved to accept a report option that will see the fund reduced and assistance targeted at younger people in need.

Dr Wills claimed it had become “impossible” for trust staff to administer the fund, which required pensioners to be effectively means tested, following the axing of the blanket bonus several years ago.

However, Mr Duncan said that by agreeing the motion, the trust was “attacking the most vulnerable in society”.

He said it was an “attack on our senior citizens” at a time when they were already suffering fuel poverty and struggling with one of the poorest state pensions in the European Union.

Trust chairman Bobby Hunter said the cut was “not about saving money, it was about putting it in the right place”.

Mr Hunter said the Christmas grant had become increasingly difficult to administer owing to changes to the benefit system and external agencies and was no longer “equitable”.

Mr Duncan was backed by trustees Andrea Manson and Amanda Westlake in an amendment that would see the status quo being maintained until the disbursement review is undertaken.

He said that many of the pensioners who had worked so hard to make Shetland the “better place it is today” had not shared in the wealth of the oil boom and were restricted to a single, very poor pension.

He told trustees: “I have a lot of sympathy for the pensioners and disabled persons. I am fighting for what I believe is justice.”

Ms Westlake said that with 300 applicants out of a population of 200,000 she could not see the need to change the scheme. Instead, she called for closer scrutiny of the trust’s much larger grants to recreation and the arts.

Trustee Jimmy Smith admitted he was one of the people who had “made a lot of money out of Sullom Voe” and did not have the face to apply for the Christmas grant, nor did any of his friends. “We should direct this money to where it is most needed,” he said.

Dr Wills said no-one wanted to target or victimise the elderly and that he would have backed continuation of the grant scheme, but the trust simply could not wait for the review by the disbursement committee. Admin staff were facing “overwhelming, insuperable difficulties”.

Trustee Drew Ratter, who backed Dr Wills’ motion, said that it was “sad” to see the end of the scheme, which had been around since the very early days of the trust, but the world had “changed massively since the scheme was first devised”.

Trustee Betty Fullerton said that the present scheme was “promoting inequality” and contingency funding should be available if needed under the new scheme.

Mrs Fullerton acknowledged that although Shetland was booming, there were many poor people around and it was harder being a poor person in a rich society.

About Peter Johnson

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as an employed and freelance reporter and editor for a variety of print and broadcast media outlets and as as a freelance photographer and film maker/cameraman. In addition to journalism, I have experience in construction, oil analysis, aquaculture, fisheries, the health service and oral history.

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8 comments

  1. Robert Duncan

    There is at least some positive to take from this, in the redirecting of funds to the most vulnerable people from all age groups. It’s a shame that the overall sum has had to be reduced, but that it can continue at all is probably a blessing these days.

    Reply
  2. Johan Adamson

    I expected a lot more comment on this, but then maybe it is no surprise. I think we have had lots of comments on these pages before about our now ‘not for charity’ charitable trust. Strange how it seems to support groups and SIC related work more now since it got independant trustees than it did when the trustees were all councillors, and give less to the poor and needy.

    It will be best when the money is all spent on salaries within the Trust, Slap and Viking energy, then there will be nothing left to argue about.

    Reply
  3. Michael Garriock

    Couldn’t agree more with your closing paragraph Johan Adamson.

    The SCT is in its death throes, so what they do or don’t do with whatever few pennies they still have really matters none any more. As long as they remain as investors in Viking Energy the project will bankrupt them, just as quickly as circumstances can be manufactured to do so. So its best folk who have benefited from Trust funds in the past get used to there not being any, sooner rather than later.

    Did anyone really expect anything of positive worth to come out of the chair shuffling exercise that was the so-called trust “reform”. When you have a system devised to “recruit” the independent trustees that was so narrow only a very few folk could possibly honestly fulfill the criteria, then the final selection being made by people who did not want to relinquish control, nor have the boat rocked. “Rubber stampers” for the “management’s” pet projects were the best that could be hoped for, and by all appearances are what we’ve got.

    Reply
    • Anne Thomson

      The Charitable Trust’s investment share in Viking Energy is worth precisely nothing for there is no cable to export the power. The reason there is no cable is that the Viking wind farm is not big enough to generate enough electricity to be profitable. To generate enough for a cable even to be considered from Scotland to Shetland there would need to be more Viking sized windfarms on Shetland. That is why there are now vague plans mooted to build another somewhere in the North Isles in the hope that a cable will be laid to Shetland.
      If building starts on the Viking windfarm then the Charitable Trust have to pay about 60 million pounds up-front and borrow half the construction cost which will be at least 300 million pounds. Since no-body really knows the exact cost of building the windfarm they may have to find many millions of pounds more.
      Given the past history of big construction projects in Shetland and elsewhere you can be sure that costs would over-run and the Charitable Trust be left picking up the tab which of course would bankrupt it.

      Reply
    • John Tulloch

      SCT is another area which would benefit greatly from the writing of a new constitution, should Shetland become autonomous, since there would be no OSCAR to blame for the current undemocratic constitution of the Trust and no excuse for failing to elect trustees.

      Reply
  4. David Spence

    What staggers me about the SCT is who on earth sanctioned and allowed the SCT to ever get involved with the Viking Energy Project if, from very broad spectrum, you look at the costs in proportion to the return the SCT.

    If present day figures are anything to go by, the overall cost of the VEP will be atleast kicking the door of £2 billion (this includes the Interconnector Cable) and what is the return for the SCT ? between £20 – £23 million a year.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the Scottish Office refused to help and fund an Interconnector Cable going from North/West Scotland to the Hebrides at a cost of around £700 million. If this is the case, I cannot see for the life of me, despite his campaign to promote Scotland as an Eco Friendly Alternative Source of Energy Country, Alex Salmond paying for an Interconnector Cable which is 4 times the distance as the one previously mentioned.

    VEP is a typical short term thinking money making idea for a minority (Shetland itself will reap very little from it) people who have literally not put 1 penny into this project but are expecting to the reap the benefits once it is up and running by selling what energy is created to the highest bidder. As for SSE and their involvement, again, Shetland will not benefit at all……..in fact, in anything, prices for full will go drastically up where they will be using the excuse the cost of the VEP (in real terms it will cost them very little, but (like all money making capitalist’s of large projects) will fabricate the truth to force the people of Shetland to pay more for their energy))

    The sooner SCT gets out of this money draining scheme that serves no purpose but to make a very small minority of people rich (typical trait of capitalism) the better for Shetland and the people of Shetland.

    Reply
  5. David Spence

    I take note at what Ann has said, even if other wind farm projects are proposed, I cannot see these projects being justified in proportion to the initial cost and the cost of providing Interconnector Cables from the islands through to the main Interconnector Cable going to mainland Scotland. Inclusive to the initial project costs, you will also have high maintenance costs and the carbon footprint (massive amount of carbon dioxide, monoxide, methane, hydrogen being released into the atmosphere) will be exceptionally high…..which, to a certain degree, will question the viability of such so-called clean energy.

    If you take into consideration that, like the VEP, other wind farm projects would only be looking after their own investors or shareholders where (even if it was under the guise of an organisation representing the people of Shetland (as SCT is supposed to be)) any energy produced would end up going south and where the people of Shetland, despite producing 100’s Megawatts of power Shetland and the people of Shetland will still be paying premium rate prices for energy because market forces will dictate that profit at all costs is paramount regardless to where it is being produced.

    Reply
  6. Allen Fraser

    Shetland Charitable Trustees and the Shetland Islands Council will surely now wake up to the real world and stop wasting any more of our money on the Viking Energy project – wind is dying, the gravy train of reckless subsidy is reaching the end of the line.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/10670115/Wind-farm-plans-in-tatters-after-subsidy-rethink.html?fb

    Reply

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