Trustees agree reduced budget with extra cash for Citizens’ Advice Bureau

Trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust this morning agreed a slightly reduced budget of £10.8 million to pay for the running costs of several key public bodies and voluntary services in the isles in 2011/12.

With a standstill budget for most organisations, with the exception of Shetland Recreational Trust which is getting a 2.5 per cent increase, the only extra spending sanctioned was £15,000 towards the cost of full-time welfare rights post at the Citizens’ Advice Bureau. The bureau estimates the post will help 700 clients to claim £800,000-worth of benefit entitlements.
Trustees rejected Allison Duncan’s call for the trust to fully fund the post, which he said was vital because of “draconian” central government cuts to welfare benefits. Others were sympathetic but it was agreed by 10 votes to seven that the bureau should try to source the rest of the money from elsewhere and could then come back to the trust if it was unsuccessful.

Setting a standstill budget is in line with the trust’s pattern of gradually reducing spending to a sustainable level to protect its oil fund nest egg at £220 million. At present its total assets are around £10 million below that level.

Following an eight-year retrenchment (in 2002 the trust spent £17 million, its most generous year since its formation in 1976) trust chairman Bill Manson believes it is finally on a stable financial footing.

Independent trustee John Scott, who has often been critical of the pace of change within the trust, congratulated its staff for their work on “forcing down” spending. His only quibble was a feeling that the £105,000 budgeted for maintaining Shetland Museum and Archives ought to be covered by the SIC, something which may be investigated in the next 12 months.

The recreational trust is getting £2.58 million towards running its seven leisure centres, an increase of £65,000 on last year to help cope with increased wage and energy costs. The other two big trusts, Shetland Amenity Trust and Shetland Arts, had requests for extra money turned down and will receive £1.06 million and £696,000 respectively.

An attempt by trustee Jonathan Wills to get a condition attached to the Shetland Churches Council Trust’s £54,075 grant that it not be used for “evangelising or proselytising” purposes found no support among his colleagues. He did applaud the work the trust does on social services and promoting tolerance, but felt it should not use public money for “overtly religious” activities.

Mr Manson congratulated officials for their work on the budget and commended trustees for resisting the temptation to add new spending. More money may need to be found for Cope Ltd. once an ongoing review of its services has been completed.

“The decision today proves that the trust can live within its means, and that the future of Shetland’s funds is in good hands, whilst at the same time safeguarding the future of the voluntary sector,” Mr Manson said afterwards.

A somewhat less impressive piece of financial stewardship emerged later in the meeting, when trustees decided to write off £963 spent on carrying out a “skills audit” of their own abilities. In line with guidance from charities regulator OSCR, Train Shetland was commissioned to carry out a survey to see whether trustees had relevant skills.

But only five trustees had bothered to complete a questionnaire sent out to them. Josie Simpson said he had looked at it twice but deemed it a pointless exercise and “threw it in the bin”. Mr Scott said he had not filled out the questionnaire because he believes the trustee body needs to change anyway. Trustees voted 10-6 to abandon the audit, leaving Mr Duncan to bemoan a “total waste of public money”.


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