20th August 2018
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Christmas bonus will be scrapped

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Shetland Charitable Trust’s long-running finan­cial hardship scheme – popularly known as the “Christmas bonus” – is to end after this year, it was decided at a Trust meeting yesterday.

Trustees voted by seven to three to scrap the scheme, which has run in one guise or another since 1976. The scheme will cost the Trust £157,000 in disbursements this year and an undisclosed sum paid to the Citizens Advice for administration.

Trustees accepted a recommendation from the trust’s chief executive Ann Black to end the scheme on the grounds that it cannot be administered from within the trust’s own resources.

Trustee Jimmy Smith “reluctantly” moved the motion to accept the recommendation, which was seconded by Betty Fullerton.

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

Allison Duncan:  Move is a blow to the most vulnerable.

Allison Duncan moved to keep the scheme going and was backed by Andrea Manson, who was unusually participating in the debate by telephone, as was Amanda Westlake.

Mr Smith said it was a “difficult decision” and did not want to disadvantage people, but the scheme was inherently unfair as there were no new entrants and it was impossible to differ­entiate between deserving cases and others. To means test everyone would be a huge job needing many staff and “it was not possible”.

Mr Duncan made a passionate case for retaining the hardship scheme, citing benefit cuts, Shetland’s deplorable record on fuel poverty, the dearest fuel in Britain, the rise of the Salvation Army foodbank and the dreadful state of insulation of many old Shetland houses as compelling reasons for keeping the fund open.

Mr Duncan said that the blow would once more fall on “the most vulnerable people in Shetland,” who were being discriminated against when the charitable trust was otherwise operating a standstill budget.

He added: “This does not put out a good name for Shetland and the Shetland Charitable Trust. Please leave them [the applicants] alone for one year and let them get their money.”

He said there was “simply no excuse” for let­ting the scheme go and outside help could be called in to administer it if need be. With 497 applicants this year, 265 of whom were over 70, there was clear demand from the public.

Ms Manson agreed with the “excellent case” put by Mr Duncan and said that the trust “cannot be seen to be doing this to the most vulnerable people in society. I think it’s essential that we continue with this for one year and maybe review it after that.”

She was backed by Ms Westlake who said: “If there’s a will there’s a way.” She added that bureaucracy and red tape should not be allowed to “put a hindrance on the most vulnerable in Shetland. I think we should fight and find a way [of maintaining the bonus].”

• Full story in this week’s Shetland Times.

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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7 comments

  1. David Spence

    As a disabled person, I am deeply saddened by the Councils decision to scrap this much needed help for those people in Shetland who find it difficult to make ends meet, especially at this time of the year where the, almost forced into spending of money, necessity into having to waste money, which could be put to better use, on a tradition that has no baring whatsoever in today’s society.

    No doubt some people will say I am a bit of a Ba Humbug (no doubt those people who believe in Christmas but do not believe in god or religion – strange) but the only purpose this serves is purely 100% commercial greed on the part of retailers, and the lowest form of life in society, the banks. No doubt they will be rubbing their hands in glee as well as making a massive fat Christmas bonus.

    Reply
  2. Michael Garriock

    So, the Grant is no more, and those who genuinely found it made a real difference to their quality of life have to suffer. Not that any other outcome was ever really expected given the recent apparent policy and direction of the Trust.

    What does this decision tell people? That although in general Shetland and Shetlanders may well be a much wealthier place and people than when the Grant was first introduced, the people who in 2015 for whatever reason, some through no fault of their own and/or for reasons beyond their control would have qualified for a Grant payment had it still existed, are somehow less “worthy” or “deserving” of the aid than their predecessors over last 30 odd years, simply because there are less of them now than then.

    So, the less able through reasons of age related decrepitude and/or misfortune of birth, accident or health are left with the SCT giving lump sums to a few other charitable organisations and public services to be able to gain anything from Shetland’s oil wealth at all. Charitable organisations and public services, which I daresay do good work in their chosen fields, but nevertheless either only cater to niche issues, are so general in their application that while many may benefit from their work, by its nature the level of benefit any one individual can feel is quite small, or provide services that are likely to be the first less able people stop using. Leaving a significant number of those who would have qualified for the grant, had it continued, receiving absolutely no benefit from SCT funds whatsoever, as one half of what the SCT pays for is of no use to them due to their own physical constraints, and the remaining half they have no use for.

    Frankly, with only a £157,000 total grant payout cost from a reported £10 Million annual budget, the excuses put forth to justify ending the grant which reportedly several hundred benefit from, are so flimsy they would be laughable were it not so serious. Just how much would it cost to hire someone to check and vet a few hundred applications?

    The three Trustees who did attempt to instill some midder wit and reason in to this debate and vote deserve to be congratulated on their efforts, unfortunately they were too few and only able to do too little, too late.

    From the currently available media reports it would appear that three Trustees did not feel that a meeting discussing the future of one of the longest standing schemes the Trust has operated, was worthy of their presence or voice. It would be hoped that this was dictated by unavoidable personal circumstances, as if otherwise I don’t think it unreasonable to expect these three individuals to tender their resignations as soon as possible, so that individuals who take the role of Trustee more seriously can be appointed.

    Similarly, it would appear, and I stand corrected if I have come to the wrong conclusion here, that the Trust currently has two vacant Trustee positions. If this is the case, surely, when taking a decision such as this on the future direction of the Trust, the Trust ethically at least would have been wise to postpone it until after the two new Trustees were appointed.

    Reply
  3. Johan Adamson

    I remember years ago they had one post who just dealt with the payment of the christmas bonus. What happened to that post or what is going to happen to that post now?

    So the SCT now only pays to other charities and organisations, which have nothing to do with financial poverty. Im not sure this was why the SCT was set up originally. I thought the whole reason for non SIC Councillor Trustees was to prevent this sort of thing happening.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Absolutely, Johan.

      Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Johan,

      It’s more likely to do with the ability of non-SIC councillor trustees to wave through Viking Energy, with electoral impunity.

      I wonder what the verdict will be in the UK Supreme Court hearing, now that it has been brought forward to before Christmas?

      I hope the court has time to consider fully the legal arguments, as in the earlier hearings, before reaching a verdict, there seems to be an element of indecent haste about the whole thing.

      Reply
  4. James Mackenzie

    On 27th February 2014, the Shetland Times reported that the Christmas Bonus scheme would be scrapped, and that ‘what was agreed [its replacement] will be looked at again in the next year’s “review of disbursements” which happens at the end of the three-year financial timetable.’
    On 11th September this paper also reported about the replacement – the Financial Hardship Scheme:
    ‘Members at yesterday’s meeting were told an estimated 520 grants of £300 each could be payable in 2014 – totalling £156,000. A report from chief executive Ann Black said an additional £1,000 may be needed for external administration fees for carrying out financial hardship checks…
    ‘Mr Hunter said applications for money had been received and assessed and Dr Wills said he was happy to move the recommendation for extra funds – as this was in line with the trust’s policy in targeting money where it was most needed…
    ‘”I was on the other side at first, I’m now satisfied this is the right thing to do,” he said.
    Trustee Betty Fullerton seconded Dr Wills.’
    I wonder why the scheme was reported on and abandoned yesterday before the “review of disbursements” was looked at next year?
    And as this FHS was “targeted at those most in need “, and not exclusively for pensioners, why did the report presented yesterday say that the scheme was closed to new applicants and was discriminatory?
    I’m confused to say the least.

    Reply
  5. Michael Garriock

    @ Johan Adamson:

    When the majority of the non-SIC Councillor Trustees are in fact ex-SIC Councillors and ex-SIC employees, just how much different in reality is that to the majority of Trustees being SIC Councillors.

    Ironically here of course, not only was it the non-SIC Councillor Trustees who failed to prevent this Grant being abolished, it was actually they who in their entirety were the ones who abolished it, as the three dissenting voices were all SIC Councillors.

    I think that’s called the plan backfiring twice.

    Reply

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