A majority of Shetland Charitable Trust trustees would be appointed by a selection panel and not councillor-trustees, under the latest proposals for reform published today.
Public comments are being invited on the recommendations of the trust’s governance review group, which was established after charities regulator OSCR requested that the £200 million organisation make itself more independent of the council.
The proposals envisage reducing the number of trustees from the current 23 (21 councillor-trustees and two independents) to 15 (seven councillor-trustees and eight appointed trustees). The selection panel would consist of an independent chairman from outwith Shetland “with a proven track record in a relevant field” and two trustees, at least one of whom would be, in the first instance, one of the existing independents and in future an appointee.
The chairman and vice-chairman of the trust would be chosen from among the appointees, who must live in Shetland and demonstrate that they have valuable skills and experience to help the trust promote economic and social development in Shetland.
Councillor-trustees would serve for the duration of their term as councillors and appointees from mid-point to mid-point of that term, with no trustee permitted to serve for more than two terms without a break of at least two years. The quorum would be six, with a minimum of three appointees.
In addition, there would be an annual general meeting open to the public and a requirement that trustees attend a minimum of half of all meetings.
If agreed at a special meeting of the trust on Wednesday 21st September, the reforms would end the stranglehold the council has had on the trust. But they are likely to disappoint those who have been calling for elections to the trust.
However one of those, independent trustee Sir John Scott, said he now accepted that this would be the best way forward.
“I am very pleased that the governance review group has come up with such a balance between public representation and personal ability. The electorate will be able to choose seven trustees through the council elections, while local people who wish to serve as trustees can put their names forward for selection,” he said.
“A majority of appointed trustees and an independent chair of the new trust will be a tremendous symbol of the new era that we are entering. The new structure will serve Shetland well.”
Trustees agreed to begin work on reform at a meeting back in February 2009, but were stymied when council convener Sandy Cluness, who was resistant to reform, won support for an independent legal opinion on the way forward, threatening to take the issue to the House of Lords.
Former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates Roy Martin QC delivered his opinion in the spring, recommending that the trust reform to end the scope for potential conflicts of interest and suggesting a balance of four councillor-trustees and 11 independents, although the final arithmetic, he said, was a matter for the trust itself.
Last month councillor-trustees Jonathan Wills and Gary Robinson spoke out following a seminar to discuss reform and condemned the unpublished proposals as “snobbery”, “fundamentally anti-democratic” and “contemptuous and insulting” to the electorate.
In a letter to The Shetland Times today, Dr Wills said his “rational, evidence-based arguments” for elections had been ignored and claimed the trust would still be controlled by the council.
Trust chairman Bill Manson voiced his gratitude for the hard work of colleagues to come up with the comprehensive set of proposals.
“This has been a huge undertaking and I would like to thank the trustees who have put so much time and effort into this,” he said.
“We have sought public opinion and advice from experts in charity work and these proposals reflect the advice we have received. We want a transparent process of selecting the best people from the community to work alongside seven councillors who are elected by local voters.
“As trustees we carry a great responsibility for looking after Shetland’s community funds, and I believe the review group has struck the right balance between change and continuity.
“However we would still like to hear what the Shetland community thinks about these proposals and we invite comments to the trust before we make the final decision on 21st September.”
Details of the proposals can be found at www.shetlandcharitabletrust.co.uk and comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or by post to 22-24 North Road, Lerwick, no later than 20th September. Comments received will be shared with all Trustees.