A former councillor has hit out at proposals to reform Shetland Charitable Trust, calling for trustees to be recruited through direct elections.
Billy Stove was speaking at Monday night’s meeting of Lerwick Community Council, during which it was agreed that the council’s chairman would write to the charitable trust calling for all 15 trustees to be elected.
Under proposals from the trust – produced under pressure from charities regulator OSCR – the reconstituted body would be made up of eight SIC councillors and seven appointed on a skills basis.
The document is out for public consultation until next Friday and there appears to be a groundswell of opinion that majority control of the trust, which controls £200 million of the isles’ accumulated oil wealth and holds a 45 per cent stake in the contentious Viking Energy windfarm project, should be wrested from councillors.
Mr Stove said it was important that trustees were recruited “on merit” and he agreed with Gordon Dargie that, if there was a need for any councillors on the trust, they should be picked by the independent trustees. “Ideally the whole lot [should be elected] but at least a majority – I can’t see that the councillors have the skills we need anyway!”
Speaking from experience (he stood down at the 2007 elections after 13 years as a councillor), he said he would be surprised if councillor-trustees could genuinely claim that they did not face conflicts of interest from time to time because of their dual roles. “I sat and felt I had a conflict of interest many, many times,” he admitted.
A local campaign to reform the trust two years ago was widely believed to have stemmed from a desire to prevent Viking Energy’s windfarm from going ahead. Referring to that, Mr Stove said you always tended to get several candidates elected to the SIC on topical issues but there was no need to be “frightened” of such an outcome. “There’s always particular groups,” he said. “We had people shouting about fish all the time; now it seems to be agriculture.”
The general consensus among community councillors was that all trustees, or at the very least a working majority, should be directly elected to ensure there is clear separation between the trust and the SIC.
While some councillor-trustees remain resistant to change, Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills – who wrote in detail about the issue in last week’s Shetland Times – told the community council that he had picked up a strong feeling among the public that all trustees should be elected.
He said the guardianship of one of Scotland’s biggest trusts was at stake and, while some members were understandably resistant to change, “we have to pay attention when the charity regulator tells us it’s not on”.
Dr Wills is also urging the public to give their views: “This is a genuine consultation – as many people as possible should write in.” His sentiment was backed by charitable trust vice-chairman Jim Henry, who said there had been “some responses but not enough – we need more”.
Proposals for the future governance of the charitable trust can be found on the trust’s website at http://www.shetlandcharitabletrust.co.uk/news/sct-future-governance-proposals-for-public-comment or by visiting its offices. Comments can be submitted by email to email@example.com, by telephone on (01595) 7449912 or by post to 22-24 North Road, Lerwick, ZE1 0QZ.