Sabotaging Shetland (Jonathan Wills)

James Mackenzie, the chief spokesperson for “Sustainable Shetland”, has said that SuS is now at “war”.

Today [Thursday 7th August] SuS fired the first shot in that war, by seeking to appeal, to the UK Supreme Court, the recent Court of Session decision in favour of planning permission for the Viking windfarm.

The leaders of SuS have already led their troops to a comprehensive and very expensive defeat at the hands of Scotland’s most senior judges. Despite that, they continue to rally their dwindling platoon, throwing yet more good money after bad and leading a final push over the top.

I think the people of Shetland are weary of the relentless negativity of the SuS campaign and its repeated claims to speak for the majority. There are said to be “over 800″ members of SuS. There are over 23,000 Shetland residents. SuS is a vocal minority, less than five per cent of the 17,000 or so registered electors.

SuS and its supporters keep saying the wind farm is a negation of democracy, yet at every stage of the planning process the decisions were taken by people who, unlike the SuS pressure group, were elected at the ballot box.

Shetland Charitable Trust has invested in the Viking Wind Farm project solely to earn money to create opportunities for future generations of Shetlanders. The development of renewable energy can bring significant social and financial benefits to our community. It will create public wealth, provide jobs and create prospects for young people.

To describe the trustees as motivated by “greed” and “the prospect of riches for the few”, as Rosa Steppanova did in a recent letter to the local newspaper, is an outrageous slur. Trustees are entirely unpaid and act solely for the benefit of the community in whose name they hold the trust funds.

Rosa has no excuse not to know this, as the facts and figures about the trust are publicly available.

Rosa blames the trust for cutbacks in council budgets. This is nonsense and reveals a startling ignorance about community finances. In fact, the trust indirectly subsidises council budgets through its support for old folks’ care, the Shetland Recreation Trust’s pools and leisure centres, the Shetland Amenity Trust’s many valuable activities, Shetland Arts and a wide range of local charities represented through Voluntary Action Shetland.

But there certainly will be cuts if trustees cannot find new income from somewhere, soon. Anyone who reads the trust’s published accounts can see that, like the council before it, it’s currently spending more than it’s earning from its investments. This cannot continue.

 

If the trust doesn’t find new money, cuts of up to a third are likely over the next five years. Viking is the only plausible source of new revenue and it is potentially the most profitable investment, by far, that trustees have ever made – unless SuS manages to sabotage it, of course. So, if folk should discover, one day in the not very distant future, that there’s no longer enough trust cash to keep their local old folk’s home open, or that the opening hours of their leisure centre are severely curtailed, they’ll know why.

The decision to drag a weary Shetland community through yet another round of court proceedings is deplorable. The chances of success for such an action appear to be virtually nil. SuS know this, of course. But they also know that if they can spin out a legal filibuster to the Supreme Court and then perhaps to Europe, for several more years, the charitable trust may have to sell its stake in Viking before construction starts. This is because trustees can justify the investment made so far, if it has a strong chance of earning large sums in the reasonably near future.

If that prospect is now indefinitely delayed by frivolous, vexatious and hopeless legal appeals, the trustees’ fiduciary duty could well oblige them to sell all or part of their shareholding and invest the money now in something else that will provide guaranteed income in the short term: BP or Shell shares, perhaps? Not exactly “sustainable”.

 

An SuS appeal to the Supreme Court can therefore only be regarded as a deliberate attempt to sabotage Shetland’s future. For what purpose can be served by it, other than to destroy Shetland Charitable Trust’s investment in Viking, and its ability to generate a healthy income to help sustain the future for all islanders, the beneficiaries named in the trust deed?

The enemy of SuS, in their theatrical declaration of “war”, is therefore nothing less than the public interest of Shetland. If the trust is forced to abandon or dilute its share in Viking, the sole beneficiaries would be commercial investors with no interest in these islands other than as a cash cow. Strange bedfellows for “sustainably-minded” folk, indeed.

Jonathan Wills
Sundside,
Bressay.

20 comments

  1. John Tulloch

    “Viking is the only plausible source of new revenue and it is potentially the most profitable investment, by far, that trustees have ever made …”

    I suppose that’s true, given the lamentable lack of ambition displayed by “Our Islands, Our Future” (OIOF) who have achieved nothing of significant value for Shetland and provided the promised submarine cable ever materialises and English consumers and taxpayers are prepared to foot the bill for it all.

    Had the SIC achieved control of the seas and sea bed around Shetland, the charitable trust would not be “running out of money” as you allege, it would have a very prosperous financial future, indeed.

    Witness the “Yes campaign’s gloating about the (alleged) discovery of the second largest oil field in the world, off the west of Shetland”.

    It’s Ali Inkster who should be gloating about that, not the “Yes” campaign.

    Reply
  2. Stewart Mac

    Its most interesting Mr Wills chose to publish such a lengthy tirade against people standing up for what they believe (and yes they are all entitled to their opinions) and tell us how weary people are. Yes I agree people are likely to be most weary, but I didn’t see Mr Wills say how weary the people were after the lower courts rejected Viking energy , they appealed as they are entitled to do and brought us to the position we are in now.i guess tge level of weariness depends on what side of the fence you are on after the latest judgement?. It is the right of SuS to appeal that decision and, when it reaches the highest court in the land the ultimate decision will be binding on all – unless of course some wee smartie finds a way to appeal to Europe instead. It will be interesting to see who feels the need to take it even further.
    Whether you are a supporter of VE or not the simple fact remains, the process undertaken by VE, SIC and yes the charitable trust does not appear to be fair, open and transparent and, whilst it may eventually be judged to have been so, the lack of perceived transparency should be very worrying to all parties as it demonstrates a fundamental flaw in their current processes . something which will cost the council increasingly large sums to defend as more and more people exercise their democratic right to challenge decisions they do not agree with. Surely it is the duty of all concerned to address these failings going forward? Perhaps while we are waiting for the appeal the elected officials can spend their time addressing any failings in a (dare i say it) a clear and transparent manner, after all the elected reprentatives, there with the sole purpose of representing their individual constituencies (something all too often forgotten) must not only act in a clear and transparent manner but also be perceived to do so. I sincerely hope that the rhetoric and posturing ( from both sides!) ends soon and that Shetland can learn from this costly and decisive debacle

    Reply
  3. James Mackenzie

    Just for the record, I am not aware that I have ever used the term “war” in the public domain, regarding the Viking Windfarm project. Indeed I wrote that it was an inappropriate term for ‘The Shetland Times’ to use recently.

    I shall leave my good wife Rosa Steppanova to reply for herself to Dr. Wills’ assertions.

    Reply
  4. Donnie Morrison

    I find it reprehensible that the Lord Lieutenant, Chair of Shetland Charitable Trust, (former) Windfarm Supporters spokesperson Bobby Hunter and Councillor Wills feel the need to lecture me for daring to try to protect my health and the value of my property from the abomination that is Viking Energy.
    How I spend my money is up to me. Sustainable Shetland has paid all it’s expenses by private donations.
    I have not been aware of Viking Energy’s junkets (eg ‘learning journeys’ to Whitelees wind farm) being paid for by Sunday Teas.
    Councillor Wills letter is a perfect example of what ordinary people such as myself have come to expect from powerful supporters – breath taking arrogance and intransigent behaviour when anyone confronts them – ‘We are in charge and we know what’s best for the community’ has been their attitude to any dissenting voice all the way along.
    I’m proud to be part of a community that is daring to stand up for itself.

    Reply
  5. ALAN SKINNER

    I am afraid that Dr Wills does not understand “investment”. Mortgaging ones home 100% and betting it all on the number 3 at the nearest roulette wheel is not “investment”, regardless of whether one is democratically elected. There are, I am certain, many of us who would support Viking Energy if it were a more reasonable size and did not risk destroying Shetland Charitable Trust, which exists for the benefit of all Shetland residents. To pin the future of Shetland on a single private equity investment, and to characterise opponents as “saboteurs”, is extraordinarily naive. Risk assessment is the basis of all sound investment, and this one simply does not pass the test. As I have suggested before, let the trustees sell 30% of their current holding, in order to prove the value of this “investment”.

    Alan Skinner

    Reply
  6. Suzy Jolly

    Tell me, Mr Wills, how many of your constituents have you asked as to whether they are in favour of the windfarm or not? Every single person eligible to vote in your ward? And how many people have you asked outside of your ward?

    You are making an assumption that support for SuS is diminishing; based on what, hearsay?

    I’m not a member of Sustainable Shetland. I am, however, against Viking Energy Windfarm.

    You are incorrect in your assumption that VE is the only plausible alternative. I’ve stated in the past that there is nothing to stop The Trust from appointing different fund managers and/or investing in better performing funds. Do you also have a crystal ball predicting electricity prices for the years to come?

    Reply
  7. Calum Irvine

    Listening to radio Shetland tonight Dr Wills said the charitable trust money belongs to the people of Shetland ,, well I don’t want my money

    Reply
  8. Billy Fox

    If Jonathan Wills wants to level accusations of sabotage to Shetland’s economy then he should look no further then the Viking Energy proposal and the wave of euphoria it has ridden on, particularly since 2007.

    Viking Energy and its associated interconnector cable is a pipe dream, always has been and always will be in my opinion. It has been driven by a political agenda and a public relations exercise which has never held water either environmentally or economically.

    The real damage to the Shetland economy latterly occurred mainly between 2007 to 2012 following the partnership agreement between the Shetland Islands Council and Scottish and Southern Energy, for it was the council who got us into this only to hand their share over to the Shetland Charitable Trust for a mere £900.

    During this period councillors/trustees were sold an economic miracle, and most bought it, with the then Director of Finance publicly stating it was the best thing that had crossed his desk in all his time at the council. The damaging effect which resulted from this was the councillors lack of will to impose the unpopular but necessary cuts to halt our runaway finances in the light of such an economic panacea. This resulted in our Reserve Fund being plundered to the tune of £325 million from 2002 to 2012 with most of that drawn down from 2007. In the final year of the last council (2011/12) £36> million was plundered to balance the books.

    This was the economic situation which the current council inherited and to our credit we have now reduced this draw down by some £22 million and next year for the first time will set a budget which is actually sustainable; albeit to be hit in future years by cuts in government funding, but that is another story and one which faces all local authorities.

    Further to that the SCT and Mr Wills are now fighting a rearguard action on the reality that the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) will not allow them to invest all their eggs in one basket, the likelihood being that the SCT could only invest to a maximum of 20% on current capital costs. This state of affairs was eluded to in the final year of the last council by councillor Bill Manson as chair of Viking Energy and chair of the SCT, the same warning was also given by the SCT Financial Controller. Of course this would seriously dilute any ‘community’ profits making the economic and environmental risk to Shetland even more acute.

    So, this has always been the situation. It is therefore unforgivable that the SCT and Viking Energy proponents should be attempting to level blame for a future sell off at a group of people who have done nothing but exercise their democratic right to object against a project which they disagree with.

    Billy Fox
    Quarff

    Reply
    • Suzy Jolly

      “Further to that the SCT and Mr Wills are now fighting a rearguard action on the reality that the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) will not allow them to invest all their eggs in one basket, the likelihood being that the SCT could only invest to a maximum of 20% on current capital costs.”

      Is it the case that the SCT has signed an agreement though stating they will cough up more dosh than that though? Apologies if you’re not allowed to divulge this information … see, us mere pleps don’t know what was in the Agreement between the SCT and the lekky bods … why the UK can’t really have in place legislation like other countries that does allow total transparency is beyond me like some of our neighbouring European countries have beats me but regardless of that, the parties could if they so chose, reveal the entire contents of that agreement to us. So there’s a thought: come clean SCT and Mr Lekky Co., reveal the full contents of the original agreement so that it is out in the open for everyone to read. After all, if it’s so wonderful and you’ve got nothing to hide, why can’t we see it?

      Oops, I digress … so if the SCT can only invest 20%, where’s the rest coming from? Are they capped too on how much they can borrow?

      Reply
  9. Jonathan Wills

    Sorry, but James Mackenzie can’t have it both ways. In the Shetland Times on 25th July he wrote that the time was not right to concede loss of this ‘”war”. He also said Sustainable Shetland preferred “not to use the terminology of battlefields”. So why use it in the first place? I repeat: the decision to try for an appeal amounts to a declaration of war on the public interest of Shetland.
    Private interests could also be sabotaged by prolonging this bravado in defeat. Do the parents of the under-16s who’re signed up as life members of SuS realise that they, as well as the SuS office-bearers, might be held liable for their share of the massive legal bills if this foredoomed appeal goes ahead? Not just SuS costs but the costs of their opponents, which are unlikely to be paid by the taxpayer this time around? If it goes the full distance with m’learned friends, the fee notes could easily come to £600,000.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      What’s this, “Project Fear 2″?

      Nice to see Jonathan’s conversion from “Old Labour dinosaur” to defender of “private interests which could also be sabotaged.”

      And it’s hopeless, apparently, the supreme court will judge in favor of Jonathan’s view of the Viking case?

      There was me thinking the law lords would make up their own minds based on the law and the circumstances set before them?

      Are we to take it that Viking/SCT’s influence “reaches the parts other peers cannot reach”?

      Reply
  10. Johan Adamson

    Its all a bit of a gamble isnt it Mr Wills. SCT is gambling with all our money, our wild land (and therefore tourism) and those people living nearest to its property and health, on high risk windfarms to make money to keep care homes open, to keep our public sector buoyant, not satisfied with normal investments in cash or the stock market. Havent you noticed but Shetland is already very wealthy? SCT should have got more money out of the gas plant and maybe property instead. These would have been less high risk investments and would now be creating a return. I think there are better ways of keeping our care homes open. Like stopping financing Vikings expenditure. The thing is that making money is not a goal, but rather a by-product of doing something well and being successful. The oil industry in the 70s happened to Shetland, enabling the creation of SCT, it wasnt something they invited here to make money or manufactured. Thats the difference.

    If Viking goes ahead, it will be SCT who sabotaged Shetland (because who wants to visit a gigantic windfarm or live on one?), not the other way around.

    Reply
    • Johan Adamson

      Spending all this money on Viking whilst Shetland is booming is kinda like fiddling while Rome burns. Leave investment and entrepreneurship to the private sector.

      Reply
  11. Stewart Mac

    Jonathan, seriously? your last comment is simply utter tosh! I am still laughing at its incredulous nature. I am however somewhat disappointed that you have failed to even take on board any of the comments made earlier. It seems to me that it is highly unlikely that any of the failings will be addressed going forward and that is a crying shame for the people of Shetland.

    Yes Sus may, if they lose, have costs awarded against them but ONLY if they lose, but that is by no means a foregone conclusion now is it? Equally, even if they lose, they may not be awarded costs against them or costs may in fact be limited to a predetermined figure. There are ways and means of ensuring any costs awards are limited at the outset but I see you have conveniently forgotten about that.

    Equally, you have to accept that if Sus WIN, then it is a completely different story, and the position is reversed. Or is that something so far from your version of reality that it escaped your consideration here? Both sides have “lost” at least once before now so its not entirely inconceivable- I don’t hear you mentioning that, or is the potential £600,000 bill (your figure) something that you think can be simply shrugged off? The Courts are far less likely to allow costs to be limited or restricted for a commercial enterprise/Local Authority/”Cash rich” Charitable organisation as you no doubt well know.

    To say that the membership of SuS would be personally liable is quite simply scare mongering “to the Max” and I have to say typical of the utter nonsense being spouted by some of the pro VE camp. It is this type of approach which has given rise to the prolonged search for justice. If you cant “beat them” with fact and logic try and scare em to death huh? As the Council (and CT) are only too acutely aware from its other “investments” over the years, when a Company or organisation becomes insolvent, its members are invariably NOT personally liable for the debts. Not always of course, but in the vast majority of cases. That is why so many investments have been “lost” over the years. That is not to say that they shouldn’t have been tried in the first place however. we need pioneers to pave the way sometimes.

    Im so glad that your views would be able to forego the need for a hearing and save us all a heap of heartache and expense potentially incurred, but if its all the same to you i’ll let the Judge decide the outcome, after all we’ve had your outcome already, and that’s what has brought us to the position we are in now.

    Reply
  12. James Mackenzie

    Apologies – my memory was at fault. These have been and are quite stressful and by no means “frivolous” times for both me and, dare I say, our membership at larghe.

    I’d like to point out, moreover that we only took our course of action after the most careful and sober consideration of our legal advice.

    Dr. Wills asserted on Radio Shetland last night that the opinion of the three judges at the recent Appeal was unanimous. I believe it to be the case that we just do not know that. I understand that, unlike in some other countries, it is now not customary for judges at the Court of Session to issue dissenting opinions.

    Reply
  13. Rosa Steppanova

    Jonathan’s statement that SuS members “might be held liable for their share of the massive legal bills…” has no bearing in reality. SuS has taken measures to protect its membership from financial liability. The term scare-mongering springs to mind.

    Reply
  14. Bert Morrison

    Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) – 2003 – objection – Court of Session – Fail – UK Supreme Court – Fail – 2014 – Construction begins – 11 years of wasted public money. Déjà vu? Time will tell.

    Reply
  15. Peter Long

    What’s wrong with investing in Shell and BP? Their “unsustainable” supply of oil and gas will last longer than the houses we’re happy to live in.

    Reply
  16. Charles Tait

    Weel beuys and lasses, why no chuist come on doon here an’big hid here. We already hae aboot a thoosan’, so a puckle mair widdna maak muckle differ ;-)

    Reply
  17. Paul O'Brien

    As an outsider looking in I would have one quesion to ask SuS. How do they suggest Shetland Charitable Trust can restore their balance of payments if not by investing in the Viking project?
    What is their suggestion for an investment that would recoop the same level of income?
    The Scottish islands are in a fragile situation where they need subsidies from the Scottish Government to maintain some services. Shetland has had it better than most due to its landmark oil deal that generated the funds now in the Shetland Chartiable Trusts coffers. The oil industry is not what you would describe as sustainable but it has certainly benefited Shetland over the years. All that was fought for then by the Shetland community is now in jepordy as the Trust spends more that it can afford on communty projects. Without the Viking investment its coffers will continue to dwindle but it will still be more than other Scottish island commuities can call on from their finances.
    Perhaps SCT should consider selling its holding to another island community so that they can benefit from this major opportunity to regenerate their own island. Western Isles would be my candidate to benefit from this project which will still go ahead with our without SCT involvement so should it not benefit some Scottish community if Shetland were to turn their back on the opportunity for themseves?
    Is common sense thin on the ground on Sheland? I think not.
    If the SuS force SCT to sell its holdings through narrow minded attitudes to clean energy then lets see the profits from Viking going to some other Scottish community instead of the private sector. This money could make an enourmous difference to the Western Isles so why not consider it?

    Reply

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