‘Compromise’ to satisfy charities regulator proposed by councillor-trustee

Shetland Charitable Trust should have eight directly elected trustees, seven nominated by Shetland Islands Council and up to five co-opted to share their expertise and experience when relevant.

That’s the “compromise” being suggested by councillor-trustee Jonathan Wills, who has previously argued in favour of a wholly elected trust, for Thursday’s meeting.

It has been called after a critical letter from the chief executive of the charities regulator OSCR, David Robb, which urged the trust to drop its proposal for a referendum on reform and imposed a time limit of the end of the month for concrete proposals.

Reform has been blocked by a group of councillor-trustees led by council convener Sandy Cluness who believe the current arrangements have served Shetland well.

OSCR has been pushing for reform of the trust’s governance to comply with charities legislation and most recently a working group proposed eight trustees appointed by an independent panel (one of whom would chair the trust) and seven councillor-trustees.

Dr Wills said he would be happy to consider amendments to his proposal, as long as a majority of trustees would be elected. “I will not vote for any proposal that results in elected trustees being in a minority on the trust,” he said.

“This [motion] is in line with the compromise solution I proposed some time ago and which was described by the former Scottish Charities Regulator as “hitting the bulls-eye”. I believe it would resolve all of our current difficulties with OSCR and other authorities, while retaining and reinforcing the fundamental principle of public accountability through election.”


Add Your Comment
  • Alan Skinner

    • December 12th, 2011 17:55

    My concern about this proposal is the balance and the “when expertise and experience is relevant”. It will be a nightmare for any Chairman. Bear in mind that the first duty of the new group of trustees will be to satisfy themselves that all investments, and all expenditure commitments, are in the best interests of the people of Shetland. That process will be very difficult with seven councillors and eight new elected trustees.
    I favour a larger number of elected trustees (perhaps ten), with the hope that some of them will have genuine expertise and experience. If there has to be a compromise, then reduce the number of SIC nominees to four, so that they can represent the council’s views but do not run the risk of undue influence.

  • Steve Jack

    • December 13th, 2011 21:00

    I broadly agree Alan – really surprised and disappointed that Jonathan’s compromise feels so at odds with what I thought was the spirit of OSCR’s objections.

  • Sue Wailoo

    • December 14th, 2011 10:34

    No half measures. Shetland CharitableTrust operates on behalf of all the people of Shetland,therefore, all the people of Shetland have the right to choose the trustees by election. This is the only democratic option.
    The duties of a trustee are less onerous than those of a councillor so those who may not want to stand as a councillor may feel better able to spare a few hours a month out of their busy lives to volunteer as a trustee. We certainly need more younger people,i.e.under retirement age, and especially more women involved in helping determine the islands’ future independent of the local authority.
    Selection by the existing councillor/trustees,apart from being undemocratic, will deter many able people from putting themselves forward precisely because they don’t feel their “face fits” the old boy network.
    Here’s hoping the councillor/trustees have the courage to make the right decision tomorrow and allow future trustees to be elected.
    Sue Wailoo OAP

  • Jonathan Wills

    • December 14th, 2011 19:39

    Alan Skinner’s point about the need for professional expertise is a good one but the Shetland Charitable Trust already buys the best legal and financial expertise available. These investment managers and experts on charity law cost a lot of money. They’re probably not going to volunteer to sit as unpaid trustees. What the trust really needs are trustees with local knowledge, common sense and, above all, wisdom. They will of course be guided by the expensive professional advice they receive. But they will act in the interests of the trust and of the community it serves. If they don’t, there are already adequate powers to sling them off the trust.

    The trust has also always had authority to co-opt an unlimited number of unelected trustees if members feel they need to bring in extra volunteers with special experience or expertise. In fact this power has never been used. I suggest we retain it but limit the number of appointees to five, thus preserving a majority of trustees who’ve been elected, either directly or by virtue of being councillors.

    I actually agree with Sue Wailoo that the ideal would be to have all trustees directly elected but the fact is that there’s not a majority for that on the present trust and it’s the present trust that must make the decision. That’s why I made my compromise proposal, in line with what OSCR was telling us last year.

    Meanwhile, I was surprised to learn that the trust’s senior office-bearers propose we should pass a special amendment to the trust constitution tomorrow [Thursday], allowing trusteees to participate in meetings and decisions by telephone or video conference. This may be a good idea but we should examine its implications carefully and take a decision at a later date, not rush it through because the leadership apparently fears they may not be able to deliver the vote tomorrow. Those of us who were unavoidably absent from the September meeting were not offered votes by phone (possibly because the heid yins had an idea how we would vote). So what’s the urgency now?

    Perhaps some would like to manipulate the result of Thursday’s vote, because they’re scared that democracy might deliver some elected trustees who support Sustainable Shetland. Personally, I’d be delighted to see windfarm opponents on the trust. Once they were forced to consider the financial facts, rather than some of the more exciteable fantasies about the windfarm, I’m sure they’d see the sense of the trust’s involvment for the benefit of the community.

    I have no idea whether my compromise proposal will be supported at the meeting or not. I have better things to do with my time than ring around all the trustees this evening, asking them to back me. I will present my arguments to them at the meeting, debate with my colleagues in public, and then see how the vote goes. If a majority of trustees does vote to remove the democratic control of the trust, after 35 years of public accountability, I suspect there will be uproar throughout Shetland. When OSCR consults on any proposed new constitution, as it must, it will find there is almost no support among the people of Shetland for an unelected majority on their (not our) trust.

    And what will happen then?

    Jonathan Wills
    Shetland Charitable Trust

  • Alan Skinner

    • December 14th, 2011 20:32

    Councillor Wills is entirely correct to say that SCT has the best of legal advice. Simon Mackintosh is, without doubt, Scotland’s leading charity and trust lawyer. However, it is blindingly obvious that the majority of trustees have been refusing to listen to his advice in the last three years.
    So far as investment managers are concerned, the trustees have the benefit of a couple of leading investment managers for the majority of the portfolio. However, so far as I can establish, they have never taken investment advice from investment management professionals on their investment in Viking Energy or other private equity investments e.g. the Scatsta control tower.
    The role of the trustees must be to ensure that legal advice and investment advice are listened to.
    The fundamental probelm is that the councillors have an entirely different agenda to that which should be expected of trustees. That is the basic conflict of interest that the councillors refuse to believe exists.
    The role of the trustees should be very straightforward 1) to ensure that capital is properly invested for the benefit of Shetland residents and 2) to ensure that income is properly spent for the benefit of Shetland residents.
    Does anyone, other than the councillors, really believe that has been happening in the last few years?

  • Sandy McMillan

    • December 15th, 2011 20:15

    Jonathan are there any any powers at the moment, if any of the Trustees are inadequate they can be booted out.


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