Accountability fears as charitable trust pushes on with new governance plans
Fears have been raised about the future accountability of Shetland Charitable Trust, during a meeting which saw trustees vote in favour of plans to re-jig its governance.
Tonight trustees voted six-to-two in favour of a trust with up to 15 trustees, up to 11 appointed trustees and up to four council members.
SIC members unanimously decided in June that in future no councillors would be put forward to sit on the trust.
It followed concerns about grouping of accounts and conflict of interests between the the trust and the SIC.
The council was asked to review the trust’s proposal to reduce the number of councillors on the 15-strong group from seven to four.
At the time councillor Vaila Wishart said there needed to be “clear blue water” between the council and the charitable trust and put forward the motion backed by members not to not have any councillors in future. The motion also said the trust should consider holding a democratic election for trustees, as well as looking at how it engages with the public.
However, tonight members opted for a revised governance arrangement, following legal advice.
This would change the number of trustees overseeing the trust’s investments which as of July stood at £215 million.
According to legal firm Turcan Connell, the council’s position “may or may not be changed” by the next council following elections in May.
“For flexibility” it was recommended wording be changed to “up to 15 in number” to “provide for the eventuality that no councillor trustees are appointed in May 2017”.
Vice-chairman Jonathan Wills questioned if there was a “contingency plan” in place if the council maintained the same position in future.
He argued there was a reputational risk to the trust if the council stood firm and did not return any councillor trustees.
Keith Massey chairman of the trust’s audit and governance advisory committee, said such matters had to be considered and worked through.
During the meeting Dr Wills argued there had been “ a material change of circumstances” following the council’s decision and the concerns about a democratic deficit at the trust should the council have no councillors involved.
Dr Wills claimed the trust would be going against independent advice recommending 15 trustees. If the trust accepted the revised “up to” proposal they would be left with 11 appointed trustees, because the current council would not appoint councillors to the trust and the next one was “most unlikely” to.
Fellow councillor trustee Andrea Manson also backed Dr Wills’ proposal to send the report back to the audit and governance advisory committee.
“If the council is going to be pulled out there has to be some kind of public accountability,” she said.
“I think it’s essential that there must be some public accountability. Sitting here tonight it’s just me, Allison [Duncan] and Jonathan [Wills] that have any public accountability, because you [other trustees] have all been selected.
“I think it’s important that we think about it now as opposed to say in a few months’ time.
“If the council decides then at that point there will be no councillors to discuss it [accountability], there will only be selected members.”
She added: “I think it’s important we get it right and we’re aware of this chance to set it right.
“I think we have to be really, absolutely certain about what we’re doing.”
Mr Massey said the audit and governance advisory committee wanted to move away from trustees who were “old, bearded and men” and wanted to look at gender imbalance within the trust and bringing in younger trustees.
The audit and governance advisory committee was “absolutely clear” that part of the trust’s journey was to look at accountability and ways of achieving it.
“Nobody is saying for one second we are going to 11 trustees and perpetuating into self selection,” he said.
“There’s no hidden agenda here”.
• For more see next week’s Shetland Times.