By MALACHY TALLACK & NEIL RIDDELL
Two councillors have resigned from Shetland Charitable Trust following its controversial decision to withdraw all funding to the Shetland Youth Information Service (SYIS).
Peter Campbell and George Smith announced their resignations on Tuesday morning. Both are SYIS directors – meaning they were unable to take part in the debate and subsequent 6-4 vote to immediately cease funding.
In a statement, Mr Campbell said he was stepping down from the trust because it had halted the £188,000 annual grant to SYIS before a new youth strategy for Shetland had been completed and a “clearly defined role for SYIS within the strategy had been determined”.
Last week drop-in centre staff told this newspaper they faced “total uncertainty” and felt “let down” by the charitable trust.
Mr Smith said he was resigning with immediate effect “as a direct result of the handling and presentation of the report on SYIS”.
“I believe that the report did not present an accurate picture of the current situation pertaining to SYIS and, as a result, trustees made a decision which has significant implications for the services users of SYIS and staff.”
In a bullish response, trust chairman Bobby Hunter said he was sorry to learn of the resignations but emphasised that “under my chairmanship the trust will not be influenced in its decisions, or in how it takes those decisions, by resignations or threats of resignations”.
“I have the best legal advice that the trust acted properly in the way it conducted the meeting about SYIS. I’m also quite certain that the decision to end funding was taken on the basis of sound evidence.”
“The public expects us to safeguard trust funds and that is what we did,” Mr Hunter continued.
“If we find that an organisation funded by the trust has not met the conditions of its grant, then that grant is very likely to be removed. Likewise, any trustee seeking to lobby the trust on behalf of another organisation that he or she represents is likely to run into trouble.”
SYIS’s 14 members of staff have been in limbo since the shock decision on 28th March to cut all funding just three days before the start of the new financial year.
Mr Smith said SYIS directors were due to meet on Wednesday to “deal urgently” with employees’ position.
“That’s one of the things we’ll want to explore,” he said, “what obligation the trust has to staff, it being the major funder. We’ll need to get advice on that.”
The vote by the charitable trust to cut funding to SYIS was held in private. However, The Shetland Times understands it was won by only a small majority, with more than half of councillor-trustees either absent from the meeting or declaring an interest.
Those who voted to cut the funding immediately were COPE chairman Jimmy Smith, Betty Fullerton (ex-councillor and one-time NHS Shetland chief), Ian Kinniburgh (NHS Shetland chairman), Stephen Morgan (children’s reporter), Ian Napier (NAFC fisheries development manager) and councillor-trustee Drew Ratter.
Those who voted to give SYIS an interim grant were Catherine Hughson (executive officer Voluntary Action Shetland), Keith Massey (NHS Shetland board member) and councillor-trustees Malcolm Bell and Jonathan Wills.
Chairman Bobby Hunter abstained from the vote, while Mr Smith declared an interest. Councillors Robert Henderson, Andrea Manson and Mr Campbell were absent from the meeting.
Mr Campbell said his resignation was linked to legal advice stating that a trustee “who has an interest in an organisation which may receive financial support from the trust and who has access to information which could help inform the trust’s decision making process, should not make that information available to fellow trustees”.
“While I accept that it is inappropriate to participate in the discussion of the subject within a trust meeting, I believe that such a restriction prevents trustees from having access to all relevant information before decisions are taken.”
Under the trust’s new constitution, SIC councillors make up seven of the 15 trustees, alongside eight appointees. The council will now have to appoint another two elected members to serve on the trust.