Shetland Amenity Trust is refusing to give out information about trips abroad undertaken by its staff, despite its chairman’s insistence that the organisation is “open and transparent”.
The trust has still not responded to a request for information from The Shetland Times made over a month ago, after which it initially said it would be responding “in due course”. The request was seeking details of all trips made over the past five years, along with a short summary of why the trip was necessary. Subsequent emails and phone calls have not been responded to.
Although it is not legally bound by the Freedom of Information Act, funding body Shetland Charitable Trust expects the trusts it funds to comply with the spirit of the act – not least because, in the case of the amenity trust, it receives more than two-thirds of its income from this community’s funds.
Last month West Side councillor Gary Robinson raised his concern about the number of foreign trips which senior management had been taking after learning from other sources that at least five such trips – to Iceland (twice), Turkey, Portugal and Italy – had taken place in the past six months.
Following that, chairman Brian Gregson claimed the trust was “open and transparent” and discussed issues such as trips outside of Shetland “in detail on a monthly basis” in front of the media – contrary to the experience of journalists working for this newspaper.
Mr Robinson has also spoken to members of the public who have made “perfectly reasonable” requests for information from the amenity trust and been rebutted. Out of its £4.7 million income last year, nearly £2 million came from the SIC, £1.3 million from the charitable trust and most of the rest from Scottish Natural Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Forestry Commission, the heritage lottery fund and the Scottish government, along with across-the-counter income.
Councillor Robinson said this week: “I’m not at all surprised that you haven’t got an answer to your questions. That appears to be what everybody who has asked questions has found. Previously I’ve heard people having a letter saying thanks for your enquiry but freedom of information doesn’t apply to us.
“I just don’t think that’s good enough because it’s public money that’s being spent. A lot of it is council and charitable trust money (Continued on page two) (Continued from front page) and it doesn’t look good that we can’t follow that public pound.”
Unlike Shetland Recreational Trust and Shetland Arts, papers for SAT meetings are not circulated publicly in advance of meetings taking place. It is also comparatively rare that matters of major significance are discussed during the public portion of the meetings.
Although it has had high-profile successes in running the award-winning museum and recently gaining the Promote Shetland tourism contract, there are also wider concerns about the trust.
A number of trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust have privately voiced concern about the “feudal” way in which the organisation is being run – though few are willing to say so publicly. One SCT trustee said he was “deeply concerned” about what he believes are long-standing difficulties between the staff and management, which has left some members of staff “frequently in despair”.