28th September 2016
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Accountability fears as charitable trust pushes on with new governance plans

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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”.

Jonathan Wills

Jonathan Wills queried what contingency plan the SCT has if the council refuses to supply trustees.

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.

AboutAdam Guest

Reporter for The Shetland Times. I have also worked as a senior news reporter at The Press and Journal, The Barnsley Chronicle and as a freelance reporter for The Doncaster Free Press. Alongside news reporting I specialise in music and sports journalism. Pork pie lover.

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8 comments

  1. Michael Garriock

    “Nobody is saying for one second we are going to 11 trustees and perpetuating into self selection,” he [Massey] said.

    Really?

    “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.”

    Perhaps you need to provide us mere mortals with a translation then Mr Massey. As in plain English that is exactly what you’re saying.

    If your reference to the “trust’s journey” is supposed to reassure the public this is but a stepping stone to somewhere else. Remember that its all to easy to slip on stepping stones and fall on your posterior in the water at any time, efffectively ending any proposed journey. Plus, why would anyone feel inclined to take a trustees “word” on any such things, given the apparent untrustworthiness displayed by SCT trustees in general

    Reply
  2. ALAN SKINNER

    I have no objection at all to a small number of trustees being appointed, if they have demonstrable skills and experience, which add value to the trust. I would be very interested to hear what skills and experience the existing appointed trustees have brought, because they are not immediately apparent.
    This is the whole problem with appointed trustees.

    Alan Skinner

    Reply
  3. John Tulloch

    I went to comment on this last night but words failed me.

    This is not a professional way to manage the trust. It’s reminiscent of an inexperienced chess player who, in a hopeless position, refuses to resign and continues moving pieces around reactively, holding out desperately in hope of a stalemate.

    Reply
  4. Peter Hamilton

    All indications are that in nine months time this wealthy community trust will be run by appointee trustees. Last night saw them taking control of the future of the trust as well as them giving themselves the power to change the trust deed. This will be hard to stop but it can be stopped.

    The campaign to return control of the trust into community hands now needs to adapt with fresh faces and new ideas. If you are concerned that the trust should become more not less accountable please attend the public meeting to be held on Saturday the 24th of September at 10am in Islesburgh Community Centre.

    Reply
  5. David Spence

    I am pretty sure the people of Shetland would like an enquiry into the Trusts dealings with Viking Energy, and whether or not there are guarantee’s from Viking Energy to pay back the £11 million or so it has received through the SCT????

    I sincerely hope this is not going to be a situation of ‘ Well, we tried, but it was doomed to fail due to rising costs – excuse ‘ by the SCT without getting back some of the money Viking Energy has received.

    If the trust is acting like a bank, I would hope it would have the same regulations/legislation/contract as the banks to recover as much money it has loaned out to whoever????

    Reply
    • Christopher Johnston

      Unfortunately, the cabal that controls the Trust and their cohorts at SIC will not be receptive to what you propose.
      The first step in relieving public concern about the Trust should be full disclosure about the Trust’s history and relationship with Viking Energy, including future obligations. Then other matters will need be disclosed.

      Reply
  6. John Tulloch

    It’s surprising, given SIC’s strong support for democracy at SCT, how many councillor-trustees, either, voted against democracy or didn’t turn up to vote. The record:
    1. FIrst vote, 12th, May 2016.
    FOR SELECTION.
    Amanda Westlake (“Very impressed with the proposal”).
    Drew Ratter.
    Robert Henderson.
    FOR ELECTION.
    Jonathan Wills,
    Allison Duncan.
    ABSENT.
    Malcolm Bell,
    Andrea Manson.

    2. Second Vote, 15th, September, 2016

    Attendance and voting not reported and minutes not yet available. However, while three councillor-trustees (Wills, Duncan, Manson) were referred to in the report, the result was 6-2, against election of trustees.

    So, presumably, at least one of the three must have voted against democracy?

    Reply
  7. John Tulloch

    So, I thought he had been uncharacteristically quiet for a clawing, snarling, pro-democracy “lion”. He has relapsed into his Flea manifestation and disappeared under the blankets of the Audit and Governance Committee, conceding gravely, “we must move forward”.

    In fact, he and the other four councillors – Westlake, Ratter, Henderson and Bell – who failed to turn up for this crucial meeting have ensured, by their failure to vote down this travesty, that the trust will not “move forward” but will continue to be an Aunt Sally, pilloried by increasingly disillusioned Shetlanders.

    Have the trustees no concern for the trust’s reputation?

    Councillors standing for re-election next May should be in no doubt. Their performance on democratic accountability at SCT and other issues of great importance to Shetland – transport, schools and industrial infrastructure – is being noted and will feature prominently during the election.

    Reply

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