Former Viking Energy director Drew Ratter has been elected as the new chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust, seeing off his old friend Jonathan Wills in an 11-9 vote.
Dr Wills did secure the vice-chairmanship by defeating one of the two independent trustees, Lord Lieutenant Bobby Hunter, 11-9.
There was one abstention in both votes, which were by secret ballot.
Mr Ratter promised to go by the book during his short tenure over the next few months and, with a bit of luck, to be “boring” rather than controversial, given the damaging few years the trust has endured.
But the charity will certainly hit the headlines again as soon as next month when trustees decide whether or not to invest a further £6.3 million to progress the Viking windfarm to the stage where the partners can give it the green light.
The issue will be on the agenda for 28th June, following a special seminar on 12th June about the windfarm, designed particularly for the 13 new and relatively new councillor-trustees.
Mr Ratter said it would be “a catastrophe” both for him and the trust if ultimately “the wrong decision” was made on the windfarm, either by halting the investment and selling up or by proceeding without complete confidence that it will be a money-spinner.
He said he wanted the trust to stand in the equation as an investor considering an investment, not in a state of confusion over its role.
“My pledge is to be completely open-handed and move heaven and earth to see that the best-possible information and advice is available,” he told trustees.
Afterwards he denied his election was a victory for the pro-Viking camp. “I hope it’s a victory for Shetland Charitable Trust,” he said.
During the meeting Mr Ratter signalled that he wants an end to the practice of simply appointing trustees as directors to subsidiary bodies, such as Viking, which has caused the trust serious problems in recent months, not least because they must declare an interest and not take part in trust discussions, sometimes causing a meeting to become inquorate.
All three leadership candidates at yesterday’s meeting are broadly in favour of the Viking windfarm in which the trust has a 45 per cent share. Perhaps surprisingly there was no challenge from those on the trust who oppose the development.
The new chairman thinks trustees should leave any big policy changes for the new-look trust, which is expected to be formed later this year. But they still have to settle lingering concerns about the proposed trust reforms, primarily whether the eight independent trustees who will join the seven councillors should be selected by a panel, as has been proposed, or elected.
Mr Ratter claimed to be “agnostic” as to how the independents are brought onto the trust but warned that seeking to have them elected would mean having to start the whole proposal and consultation process over again.
He professes to be baffled about what any prospective trustee could offer his or her voters because, unlike standing for council, they can’t promise something like a new road and must act for all Shetland.
While Mr Ratter hopes to avoid controversy in the run-up to the reformed trust neither he nor Dr Wills will be getting any financial compensation as they try to steer the charity clear of any more unexploded mines. Prior to their appointments it was decided that the £5,000-a-year “allowance” for the chairman and £2,500-a-year for the vice-chairman should not be paid. Dr Wills said he had “no interest” in payment for his duties anyway.
The position will be reviewed once the reformed trust is in place.
In his speech seeking election, Mr Ratter said the trust was “utterly vital” to the future of Shetland but its funds would remain “tight” due to the global problems affecting the stock markets. He pointed out that there would be no bail-out from Viking during the life of this council due to the length of time it will take to get up-and-running.
Mr Ratter admitted that councillors who sat on previous trusts during his earlier 13-year spell as an elected member did not really understand the trust and had acted as councillors, not trustees. But those years had seen good financial growth and were otherwise fairly uneventful – unlike the past five.
He still thought there was nothing wrong with all 22 councillors being on the trust but the world had changed under the charity regulator OSCR and Shetland needed to get that organisation off its back, he said.
In his speech, Dr Wills said there were no policy differences between him and Mr Ratter, except minor details such as his well-known desire to see independent trustees elected, not selected, which he saw as some throw-back to the days of feudalism and patronage.
He said the trust was more important to him than the council in some ways because, whatever happened, somebody would run council affairs. But the trust belongs to the people of Shetland.
He is worried about the trust’s ability to keep earning enough from investments to spend the £11 million a year it currently gives to local organisations. Trustees might face having to cut back to perhaps £9 million, he warned, as was suggested by former independent trustee John Scott. But he feared that an even bigger cut might be needed.
When it came to the vice-chairmanship election, Bobby Hunter said he had no political axe to grind. He felt the trust had become “moribund” with trustees scared to do anything because of all the complaints, threats from OSCR and legal challenges flying around. He felt the trust could benefit from the “new thought process” that he could bring to it.
One of his priorities was to offer more trust funds to local businesses which, although viable, were not getting assistance from the banks. The money would be lent at a commercial rate, he said.
Despite having already made a speech in his bid to be chairman, Dr Wills took the opportunity to say a few more words relating to his challenge with Mr Hunter. Unlike his opponent, he said he was not a member of any pro-windfarm group and was “elected in a constituency with more than one voter” – presumably a reference to Mr Hunter’s selection by HM Queen to be her man in Shetland.
He called for the trust to be run in a more ethical and environmentally responsible manner and to do so without losing any income. His call found enough favour with colleagues to land him his most senior role in local public service to date, albeit a temporary one.