Different bonanzas (Malachy Tallack)

There seems to be some confusion in John Robertson’s front-page article last week (“Community urged to take share of looming renewables bonanza”). Chiefly, this lies in the distinction between two words: “community” and “council”.

It should not need to be said here, but apparently it does: community ownership and council ownership are not the same thing. The SIC’s determination to “get a piece of the action”, in Alastair Cooper’s words, should absolutely not be considered the only alternative to “allowing big business to run the show and make off with the profits”, as Mr Robertson puts it.

There are in Shetland true examples of community-owned and community-led energy projects, such as those in Fair Isle, in Foula and in Yell. Throughout the UK and Europe there are many other such schemes, both large and small, where local people have a stake and a say in renewable energy developments. Such projects are quite different from the money-making schemes envisaged by Mr Cooper.

If only one lesson is to be learned from our current financial woes, it is surely this: that the economic health of our communities is far too closely aligned to the economic health of the SIC. At this of all times, we ought to be doing something to change that.

If there is to be a “renewables bonanza”, the council and the charitable trust must not be allowed to stand in the way of genuine community ownership. Nor should these terms ever be confused, either deliberately or accidentally. The council is not the community.

Malachy Tallack


Add Your Comment
  • Paula goddard

    • November 21st, 2011 17:19

    Thankyou Malachy , Genuine community ownership has been proved from cornwall too shetland and all lands between.If we dont stand up for our communities now ,when we have a chance ,then we must hold our hands up and hand over to the powers that be.
    Lets not let that happen.

  • Drew Ratter

    • November 22nd, 2011 14:17

    I think it a regretable reflection on the state of public life when someone like Malachy does not think that council or Charitable Trus ownership is community ownership. There is no other form of ownership which is more purely of the community, given that the body which controls the assets through both the SIC and the SCT is completely replaceable, all members, through direct election, by direct suffrage, on a four or five year cycle. There is obviously a need to get this across.

  • ian tinkler

    • November 22nd, 2011 20:47

    When dishonest manifestos from self serving councilors are the norm, direct suffrage is a myth. Just which of are numpty councilors were honest about their support for VE before the last council election. Was our MSP before his election, please answer Mr. Scott, if you have the backbone.

  • Billy Fox

    • November 23rd, 2011 12:12

    “Charitable Trus”……a Freudian slip Drew?

  • Robert Wishart

    • November 23rd, 2011 16:05

    The minds of those who move in bureaucratic circles can’t separate council (and its trust) from community. Furthermore, councillors (and trustees) are unable to distinguish between the interests of council and community, or communities. These interests may be, but are often not, the same thing. There are few similarities between the “bonanza” brought to the isles by oil and the “looming” renewables “bonanza”. The first injected cash into the islands. The record tells us that with the renewables industry sniffing after the council we are right to worry that what is left will be smyrilled out of the isles.

  • Michael Garriock

    • November 24th, 2011 21:05

    I have no problem with the statement that assets of the SCT are in public ownership. The problem arises, and is many fold when the nature of that ownership, and how the public controls it are examined.

    Councillors are elected first and foremost, as councillors. By definition public representatives entrusted with providing public services competently and at reasonable cost, and to protect the interests of Shetland, and Shetlanders therein.

    Predecessors of our current councillors self-appointed themselves as trustees of a public fund, and all councillors ever since have by default become trustees. The public, whose funds they are entrusted with, and who they are are supposed to represent, have tolerated that situation so far, for reason(s) best known to themselves. However I would speculate that among those reasons is the opinion that “it’s working okay, so leave it be”.

    The root of the problem arises in the fact that the public have never been asked to elect trustees to the SCT, not only that they’ve barely been told either, in fact there’s quite a section of the Shetland public out there who’ve merrily voted away for councillors for decades who do not know they are also electing a SCT trustee with the same vote. Don’t believe me? When did you last receive a candidate’s flyers or speil at election time that they mentioned their stance re SCT activities, never mind the fact that your vote, for which they were canvassing, would, if they were elected, place them among the trustees of the SCT?

    I would venture, that things were left to be for so long, as “normal” SCT activities were generally seen as being relatively “low risk” and “safe” with regard to investments, and “adequate” with regard to disbursements. However, when VE entered stage left and plonked itself squarely in SCT’s lap, that perception suddenly changed. Insofar as the SCT were deviating away from their tried and tested investment philosophy of spreading relatively modest sums across a number of market investments with advisory input from brokers, to planning to invest a preceived dangerously large sum in a green field business venture. This, probably predictably, made some members of the public decidedly uneasy (being as it is “their” money, after all, who wouldn’t be….), and motivated some to attempt to access more information and/or exert their opinion of this apparent change (IMHO, very understandable when you’ve effectively given a blank signed cheque over to someone else, who suddenly appears to have thrown caution to the wind, and won’t justify their reasoning beyond glossy Ad. men blurb and pretty pictures in leaflets….).

    In doing so, it has quickly become apparent, that while “community ownership” of SCT funds is relatively easily proven. It has also become worrying apparent that the public has only nominal influence over who the trustees of their funds are, and even less influence over what those trustees decide to do with the funds they are entrusted with.

    From a personal POV, the most suitable person to ensure adequate and cost effective public service delivery, and the best interests of Shetland and Shetlanders are best protected (ie. a councillor), is extremely unlikely to be the same person who is capable of making informed, astute and hardnosed investment/business decisions (ie. a SCT Trustee), therefore the roles are mutually incompatible. In having them combined, the public has the unenviable choice of voting for either a potentially good councillor, who unfortunately can only be a very mediocre SCT trustee, or vice versa.

    Past operational arrangements of the SCT may well have worked well enough in their day, but the years march on. Either the SCT needs to drop VE like a hot coal and revert back to their former behaviours of spread “safe” investments, or the time has come for direct elections of trustees by the public, with no connection to being a councillors or not whatsoever, and a real and meaninful involvement and input from any and all members of the public in to SCT business at all times.

  • Dave Heaney

    • November 24th, 2011 22:01

    Malachy Tallack, do agree the council is not the community and the Charitable Trust should be taken out of their hands.


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