Councillors vote to urge themselves to reconsider decision on charitable trust reform

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.


Add Your Comment
  • Alan Skinner

    • February 8th, 2012 15:26

    Let’s get this straight. The councillors, wearing their SIC hats, are writing to themselves, wearing their SCT hats, to complain about the decision they made as trustees. How ridiculous this makes them,and Shetland, look and how graphically it highlights the conflict of interest that has been apparent to any rational person for a long time.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • February 8th, 2012 18:43

    The Shetland island Council members were democratically voted in by the public to look after the affaires of Shetland and the Shetland populate,
    The Shetland Charitable Trust has nothing what so ever to do with the Shetland Island Council, back when it was set up the Council took it upon themselves to Control the SCT, With not a how do you do about the concerns of the public, the trustees bar two are sitting Council members, over the years the Trustees have spent our money as they felt fit, Thousands even Millions of our money gone up the swanney, MV Narona Millers Knitwear, Fish farm, all hand outs with no returns, although the Shetland Island Council would like to control our money, the board of Trustees has to be democratically voted in by the public, Candidates from around Shetland, for example The Isles, North Mainland, Westside, Southend, and the Lerwick, not from the Council Chambers.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • February 8th, 2012 19:05

    Well said, Sandy.

    The Trust cannot be said to represent the people of Shetland if trustees are hand picked by a few councillors.

    Let’s hope democracy wins the day and that we have our say in all matters which determine our future.

    Kathy Greaves

  • Jonathan Wills

    • February 8th, 2012 23:25

    Your otherwise very full and fair report omits one important point: the resolution passed this morning (Wed) endorsed all but one of the proposed reforms to the charitable trust’s constitution. There’s unanimity on every point except the method of choosing the eight new independent trusteees. There’s nothing ridiculous about it, Mr Skinner: a majority of councillors at the meeting had reflected on the matter, listened to their constituents and politely requested the trust to reconsider its decision that the independents should be selected rather than elected.

    As for Sandy McMillan’s wild allegations, I’m sorry to spoil a good plot but perhaps he’s confusing the Shetland Charitable Trust with the council and/or Shetland Development Trust, whose conduct has indeed been less than prudent on occasion. The charitable trust has never had its accounts qualified or been criticised for its stewardship of public funds, despite being run by a majority of councillors for over 35 years. Four complaints against it were all dismissed after rigorous independent investigation.

    “Facts are chiels at winna ding!”

  • Sandy McMillan

    • February 9th, 2012 12:43

    Jonathan, as you are in a better position than myself ,to know the ins and outs of where the money has come from, as far as I am concerned it all comes from Sullom Voe area be it the Terminal ,or Sella Ness, Jonathan let some o yon hot air oot o yon muckle over grown head o din,
    The money still belongs to the people, and they should have the democratic right to decide what to do with it, whatever the needs are, this is why we need eight individuals from around Shetland , who have no ties with Shetland Island Council , or had any dealings with the Shetland Charitable Trust, the way forward is for any individuals from any area of Shetland to put there name forward as a candidate for the eight vacant positions as Trustees to the Shetland Charitable Trust, the monopoly of Councillors as Trustees , has to come to a end, the sooner this election takes place the better for all concerned, Councillors look to Council business, and a independent board of Trustees look after Charitable Trust, is there any thing in the constitutional rights of the Charitable Trust to say that Councillors are required on the board of the Shetland Charitable Trust,


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