The Nolan principle on openness states the following: “Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.”
With this in mind I am choosing to state publicly my intention and my reasons for declaring a conflict of interest on the Viking Energy agenda item at the Shetland Charitable Trust meeting on Thursday.
As a councillor and therefore a landowner through the Busta Estate, I have an interest in maximising the rental income for any turbines in that location. As a trustee of SCT and therefore a shareholder in Viking Energy, I also have an interest in minimising the rental paid in that instance. This conflict of interest is black and white and was confirmed to be so by Turcan Connell on 12th June.
As a councillor I am mandated to deliver a Scottish government policy on community planning following through to a Single Outcome Agreement. Within this plan we must undertake, “To work together and with communities to make Shetland a place where people want to live, because of our quality of life, employment opportunities, our strong sense of community and our stunning environment.”
Similarly, within our Shetland performance framework we must ensure that, “We live and work in a renowned natural and built environment which is protected and cared for,” and that we must, “take pride in a strong, fair and inclusive society; and in our culture.”
My personal view is this does not sit with how trustees must conform with charity law on public benefit which reads in the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 section 8 (2) as follows:
“Public Benefit 8
1/ No particular purpose is, for the purposes of establishing whether the charity test has been met, to be presumed to be for the public benefit.
2/ In determining whether a body provides or intends to provide public benefit, regard must be had to –
(a) How any –
(i) benefit gained or likely to be gained by members of the body or any other persons (other than as members of the public), and
(ii) disbenefit incurred or likely to be incurred by the public,
in consequence of the body exercising its functions compares with the benefit gained or likely to be gained by the public in that consequence, and
(b) where benefit is, or is likely to be, provided to a section of the public only, whether any condition on obtaining that benefit (including any charge or fee) is unduly restrictive.”
I appreciate this appears grammatically challenging but it is as it appears in the act, it is not a consequence of my transcription!
The key word for me here is disbenefit. Setting aside the speculative nature of the Viking Energy windfarm and whether it will bring benefit to Shetland as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind it will bring disbenefit to significant numbers of the community in terms of reduction of property prices, amenity and general quality of life, not to mention possible long term health effects. In this regard I believe this endorses my decision relating to my conflict of interest.
The conflict of interest also extends into the future. Should the project go ahead the council as local authority would be responsible for applying any conditions relating to consent, of which there are many, resolving this with the commercial pressures which would prevail as a trustee and shareholder would, in my opinion, be impossible.
I must also declare a conflict of interest due to my public profile over the last four years, chairing a group known as Sustainable Shetland which actively oppose the development of the Viking Energy windfarm. Such public expression makes my position in terms of public perception questionable with regard to how I can approach the meeting impartially. I believe this should apply to any trustee with past involvement in Viking Energy or who has publicly voiced strong opinions on either side of the debate.
Councillor for Shetland South
and trustee of Shetland Charitable Trust