As your readers will be aware, the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) wrote last week to the trustees of the Shetland Charitable Trust asking them to take urgent action to address issues with the trust’s governance.
As is our policy, we did not release that letter publicly, but in view of some of the recent media coverage there has been, and the level of public interest in this matter, I am taking the unusual step of writing directly to you in the interests of clarity for your readers. I would like to place on record OSCR’s position, particularly in relation to the proposed referendum on the trust’s future governance.
OSCR first became involved with SCT following complaints from members of the public in Shetland. We have engaged actively, openly and patiently with the charity over the last three years to address issues highlighted by these complaints and, as part of this process, we have given clear, consistent advice to the trustees that changes need to be made to the trust’s constitution and governance to ensure that this is fit for purpose. This has also been the advice the trustees have had from their own legal advisers. We have an open view as to what form the new arrangements might take. Charities come in all shapes and sizes and the exact form of the governance structure remains a matter for the charity trustees, as long as these arrangements are compatible with the requirements of charity law, especially with regard to independence, which is a primary concern for us a regulator. Our aim here is to ensure that the charity’s assets continue to be managed in the interests of the local community.
I must also stress that we have no objection to charities consulting the people they benefit or any other interested parties on constitutional matters – indeed we have on occasions advised charities to do exactly this. We were pleased to see SCT’s trustees consult earlier this year on their revised governance proposals.
What is not compatible with their duties as charity trustees however, is the spending of charitable assets asking the people of Shetland to vote on options which the trustees themselves know to be unacceptable in terms of charity law.
This is why OSCR wrote to the trustees requiring them to take no further action on the referendum as proposed and to give us a clear timetable for action on SCT’s constitution. We hope that it will be possible to continue to engage constructively with the trustees, but we have been obliged to make them aware of the legal enforcement action we will take if they do not give us the undertakings we have asked for.
Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator
9 Riverside Drive,