Shetland Charitable Trust has deferred a decision on whether to approve £2.25 million towards the Viking Energy windfarm project because of concerns over a possible conflict of interest.
The decision would essentially have reimbursed the SIC for its expenditure on the project – which proposes the building of 150 wind turbines in the Lang Kames – to date.
Ahead of the submission of a planning application early next year, the council agreed to make provision for a spend of £3 million.
So far, £1.5 million of that has been spent, with another £750,000 due to be doled out prior to the planning application going in. It is anticipated the remaining cash will be required as the planning process proceeds.
At a meeting on Monday, the councillor-trustees were told they faced a possible conflict of interest over the proposed transfer.
They voted by 8-7 to defer the decision in order that clear written advice from charities regulator OSCR, as opposed to the verbal assurances they had received prior to the meeting, could be given.
One of the two independent trustees John Scott said he saw no way that councillor-trustees could avoid the conflict of interest, particularly as the decision would involve taking £3m liability off the council’s books.
Mr Scott said ignoring the conflict of interest risked breaking the law and the possibility of a complaint being submitted to the police.
Addressing trust chairman Bill Manson, he asked: “Why, as chairman, have you put the trustees in this position?”
Mr Manson, who is also chairman of Viking Energy, responded that while the involvement of the police was “entirely possible”, it was unlikely. “I believe it is a justifiable risk,” he said.
Councillor-trustee Jonathan Wills said he wasn’t comfortable about voting without having the written advice of OSCR and the council’s lawyers to hand. “The fact is, there are people very much opposed to this project and they would take any action they can – I’m not willing to take that risk,” he said.
Dr Wills said the situation again highlighted the need for a majority of trustees to be independent. His motion was approved by a single vote and the decision will come before trustees at a future meeting once the advice from OSCR is forthcoming.