The debate about who should sit on the new-look Shetland Charitable Trust has been re-opened once again after Shetland Islands Council objected to the trust’s plan to appoint rather than elect eight independent trustees.
The call for a rethink was led by councillor Gary Robinson and he was backed by an 10-8 vote at today’s meeting of the Full Council. A letter will now be sent to the trust requesting that it reconsider its proposal to have a majority of the 15 trustees specially selected for their expertise by an independent panel.
Instead, the council wants the voters of Shetland to directly elect the eight independents who would join seven councillor-trustees on the £200 million trust later this year, if the reforms are approved by the charity regulator OSCR.
Currently there are just two independent trustees who are selected automatically due to their positions as head of the Anderson High School and Shetland’s Lord Lieutenant. They sit with up to 22 councillors.
Mr Robinson hit out at the prospect of control of the trust passing from the democratically elected majority of councillors on the trust to a band of eight selected individuals. That had never been the intention when the trust was established in 1976, he said. Nor was it one of the demands made by OSCR when it ordered the trust to reduce the council’s influence over its affairs and the potential for conflicts of interest to arise among councillor-trustees.
Mr Robinson told colleagues in the Town Hall: “I’m not going to apologise for being a democrat. We should not be so keen to give up democracy where it exists.”
He said he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who had told him that non-elected trustees was a good idea. He concluded: “I urge the charitable trust to rethink on this and keep this trust democratic.”
Among his supporters was Rick Nickerson who said the intention had always been for the trust to be governed by elected representatives. Jonathan Wills wondered what some of Shetland’s political leaders from the past, such as Alex Morrison and AI Tulloch, would have thought of democratic control being relinquished.
In the opposing camp, council leader Josie Simpson wanted the local authority to let the matter lie and not further damage its reputation and that of the trust by failing to stick to a decision. He said the trust’s reform working group, on which he sat, had come up with its suggested new trust constitution after great deliberation.
At the start of the discussion most members declared a non-pecuniary interest but agreed it did not preclude them from debating and voting on the issue. However, trust chairman Bill Manson and vice-chairman Jim Henry left the room.
Several councillors remained uneasy that the council was debating the membership of the trust, which is an independent body. Caroline Miller called on the local authority not to make a decision but to put forward any concerns at a later date when OSCR conducts its consultation.
However convener Sandy Cluness said the council was entitled to have a say on any institution it wished to.
The charitable trust will now have to consider the intervention by the council, opening up the possibility that its decision, made in December, could be changed. The altered proposal would then have to be submitted to OSCR for consideration. If approved then OSCR would put it out to public consultation.
The new chief executive of OSCR, David Robb, is due up to meet the trust on 28th February.
On a roll call vote Mr Robinson was supported by Allison Duncan, David Sandison, Dr Wills, Gussie Angus, Mr Cluness, Florence Grains, Robert Henderson, Andrew Hughson and Mr Nickerson.
Mr Simpson was backed by Cecil Smith, Allan Wishart, Jim Budge, Alastair Cooper, Betty Fullerton, Mrs Miller and Frank Robertson.