By NEIL RIDDELL
The SIC is to spend £50,000 on getting its lawyers to review its relationship with Shetland Charitable Trust, it was agreed this week, as convener Sandy Cluness warned that any radical reform would be “very much against the interests of the community”.
In an ongoing process which could overhaul control over a substantial chunk of the isles’ £400 million-worth of oil funds, the trust itself has agreed to undergo a review following a request from charities regulator OSCR that it should produce “better and more obvious evidence of independence” from the council.
That assessment has to be completed by July and chief executive Morgan Goodlad’s suggestion that the SIC conduct its own parallel review was accepted without objection at a meeting of the full council on Wednesday.
Mr Goodlad’s report raised a concern that any change in the way the trust was governed, which may include an increased proportion of non-councillor trustees, could “reduce considerably the benefits of close working that has been achieved in the past”.
The charitable trust was created in 1976, established from council-derived funds to get around restrictions regarding what local authorities can and cannot do and also to protect the amount of money the SIC gets in its block grant from central government.
But there has been a gradual separation of the two bodies and in the past 18 months there have been growing calls for the proportion of councillors who make up the trust body to be reduced, perhaps so that they no longer constitute a majority.
At present 22 of the 24 trustees are appointed by virtue of being councillors, with only Lord Lieutenant John Scott and Anderson High School head teacher Valerie Nicolson as independent trustees.
There has also been controversy over the transfer of financial responsibility for the Viking Energy windfarm from the council to the trust, and it took three attempts before enough councillor-trustees were comfortable that there was no conflict of interest preventing them from taking a decision to that effect.
Charitable trust chairman Bill Manson – who believes there is a need for a greater number of non-councillor trustees – said he thought it was important for the council’s lawyers Dundas & Wilson and the trust’s lawyers Turcan & Connell to have dialogue while conducting their separate reviews. “If there is different advice it creates difficulties,” Mr Manson said.
At Wednesday’s meeting Mr Cluness repeated that he was “totally opposed” to any change in the way the trust operates and that the public knew fine well when voting for councillors that they would also be appointed to the trust if elected.
He was backed by councillor Rick Nickerson, who said that just because the trust had not been quorate for one meeting in three decades did not mean it wasn’t functioning properly. His suggestion that a third option for the review be included, that of the status quo, was accepted.
Because OSCR has not made any specific demands, councillor Allan Wishart said it was only possible to speculate on what they want and what was needed to comply with the Charities and Trustees Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 is unknown because there is no existing case law.
Councillor Jonathan Wills said £50,000 seemed “an awful lot of money to tell us what we know” and tried to get the contract for the review put out to tender. But he was unable to find a seconder so Dundas & Wilson will carry it out.
Dr Wills added that it was clear that some change to the way the trust and council interact will be neces sary. “It may have been the council’s child, but the child has grown up and has its own identity,” he said.