17th October 2017

Trust needs cash injection (Robina Barton)

I have thought long and hard about whether to write this letter but I am deeply concerned that staff at Shetland Amenity Trust are facing job losses because of longstanding issues of financial management that are not of their making. (The Shetland Times, online, “Jobs could be cut as amenity trust grapples with ‘critical’ financial position”).

I myself walked out of my job at the amenity trust two years ago because of this very failure to address the long-term sustainability of the trust, meaning that I was employed there on temporary contracts for nine years.

I was not alone in this situation. The fact that nobody in management or governance questioned why someone would walk out of a job they loved with no job to go to tells its own tale.

The staff at the amenity trust have never had a proper forum to express their views or concerns. Many years ago, I and others were involved in the development of a staff appraisal scheme, based on best practice from elsewhere, that could have gone some way to addressing this lack, but it was not adopted for reasons that were never made clear.

Last year I applied to become a trustee of Shetland Amenity Trust, feeling that it might be an opportunity to try to raise some issues at governance level. I was unsuccessful following a “secret postal ballot” in a process that did not even include an interview.

How appropriate a means this is of appointing people to the governance of a publicly funded organisation I leave it to others to determine, but looking in from outside I believe that in moving forward two things are critical:

1. There needs to be a proper consideration of what the Shetland Amenity Trust exists to achieve. It is not a business, it is about community benefit, and this should be at the heart of any restructuring process.

2. The staff must not be made the scapegoats for the failings of others, and this will require an injection of cash from somewhere. Fortunately, Shetland, unlike other places, does have some money put away for a rainy day.

For the trust staff the proverbial rainy day has come. I believe Shetland Charitable Trust both could and should provide a bail-out and, potentially, a larger ongoing package of funding subject to development of a clear framework of community benefits to be delivered across the islands.

We are not talking in abstracts here. Real people are facing the loss of their livelihood because others have failed to do what was required of them, and not just within Shetland. One must question the purpose of Oscr, if not to ensure the proper financial governance of registered Scottish charities.

I hope that at the 11th hour some consideration will be given to these points, before people are forced into unemployment.

Robina Barton
Old Station Cottage,
Gilsland,
Cumbria.

One comment

  1. Johan Adamson

    Im not an employment contract expert but I dont think you can be on temp contracts for 9 years – you must have had continuous employment, whether you knew it or not. I would expect that anyone still employed at SAT on that same basis to be due redundancy based on years worked if they have to make any staff redundant.

    No one expected the grants to dry up, especially those from the SIC and SCT, but that is what has happened. Austerity has made heritage one of the first things to go. The Amenity Trust has done such great things for heritage, it is a real shame.

    Are the Trustees not personally liable for the debts? I would have thought they would also be liable for the debts of Hays Dock cafe even though it is a limited company. Would they not need to sell off some investments or property to keep going? It’s good to own assets but you need to have the money to keep these going as well. Shetland is going to have to find a solution to this, the historic setting up of trusts being responsible for the situation SAM now finds itself in.

    Parts of SAM does need to be run on a proper commercial footing though, like the cafe and the accommodation, otherwise you are unfairly competing with other local business who are not propped up by the public sector. The cafe should be contracted to someone who can run it as a commercial operation, no business could keep their restaurant running at a £20k loss every year.

    Reply

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