By NEIL RIDDELL
Using Shetland Charitable Trust funds to pay for the £50 million new Anderson High School would be “complete nonsense”, according to an independent trustee.
After receiving an initial approach from the SIC, which has been resolved for almost a year to seek a leaseback arrangement whereby the trust would pay for its building costs and then lease the school back to the council at a rate in the region of £4-5 million a year for up to three decades, several trustees were frosty towards the idea at last Thursday’s meeting of the charitable trust.
Independent trustee John Scott said it made no sense for the council, which has well over £200 million in reserves of its own, to ask the trust to finance the high school and that it would be a move which would “put our investment policy out of kilter”.
“We have never put £50 million into one project, or anything like it,” he said.
“We would be selling out shares at the bottom of the market – one third of our assets. I’m absolutely sure that it’s not wise. Why [doesn’t] the SIC want to pay for schools themselves? We’ve a pressing list of matters [and] I don’t think it’s a sound investment for the trust.”
Trustee Gussie Angus, who is also chairman of the council’s services committee, said he agreed with most of Mr Scott’s analysis but that an investment on which returns would be paid back by the local authority was as close as the trust could get to a “copper-bottomed” investment.
“It’s infinitely preferable to investing in tobacco shares,” he said, adding he was concerned that there had been “no consideration” of how the AHS should be financed even though a planning application has now been submitted.
Councillor-trustee Jonathan Wills also shared Mr Scott’s concerns and said the trust should under no circumstances consider selling assets to finance the project. “We have to make explicit that there’s no commitment at this stage,” he said.
Councillor-trustee Betty Fullerton said it was important that negotiations with the council were conducted in a “clinical, professional manner” and treated like any other investment. She wanted to know whether the trust would be responsible for forking out maintenance costs for the school once it has been built.
Trust financial controller Jeff Goddard said it was an idea worth pursuing, though there are “other potential projects on the horizon”, not least a potential £50 million investment in the Viking Energy windfarm. He said SLAP could accommodate such a large investment and generate a commercial return. He is now working on a detailed report to put before trustees on 28th May which will consider whether the projected return on the investment would be comparable to that gained by investing in bonds and other property.
A motion from Mr Scott to throw out the idea of continuing dialogue with the council on the idea was rejected by 14 votes to two, with six abstentions.