Treat voluntary sector like Shetland Arts: Duncan

The struggling voluntary sector should be given the same kind of “free lease” deal that Shetland Arts has been given for cinema and music venue Mareel, according to councillor Allison Duncan.

Shetland Islands Council has responded to Mr Duncan’s comments saying he was wrong to refer to the arrangement as rent free, or without charge.

Last week the council bought a 99-year long lease on Mareel for £1.1million, then leased it back to the arts agency.

This week news emerged that Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS) is in a precarious financial state. Writing in the organisation’s annual review, chairman Gussie Angus said the finances were on a “knife-edge”. In what has been VAS’s busiest year, Mr Angus said that in the face of spending cuts, it was “hard-pressed” to maintain its present services, and yet was expected to help alleviate cuts in council services.

This has incensed Mr Duncan, who is one of the directors of VAS. He was also an early opponent of Mareel, although last week’s lease deal was agreed by councillors without opposition.

Mr Duncan said: “VAS is a wonderful service for Shetland in every aspect they’re involved in. If Mareel got a 99-year lease rent free is it not time for VAS to be considered for rent-free premises?

Click on image to enlarge.
Click on image to enlarge.

“If they were treated fairly in the same way it would help alleviate their financial problems. I will look forward to the answer with interest.”

However Shetland Islands Council took exception to Mr Duncan’s description of the Mareel deal as “rent free”. On Thursday afternoon the SIC issued a statement to clarify the matter. 

Head of legal services Jan Riise said: “Mr Duncan was not in attendance at last week’s council meeting where members received a detailed briefing on the head lease and sub-lease terms.  These documents are registered on the public register of title deeds, for all to see.

“Mr Duncan is not correct when he suggests that the arrangement for ‘Mareel’ is in any way rent free or ‘without charge’. A commercial rent is charged under the head lease to the principal tenant, the council, and under the sub-lease to the sub-tenant SADA.  

“Both rental figures are at commercial rates assessed by an independent valuer appointed by the government. At present because SADA is both the landlord and the sub-tenant the net effect is balanced but it is simply not correct to say that each of the leases are anything other than on full commercial terms.”

“In October 2003, when the council was in a better financial position to do so, Shetland Islands Council granted title for the land and buildings now known as Market House to the Shetland Council of Social Services, later renamed Voluntary Action Shetland (VAS), for a nominal charitable sum (£1). The council has no continuing heritable interests in that title.”

Meanwhile demand on the voluntary services, known as the “third sector”, is increasing, with more than 11,000 visitors passing through the doors of VAS’s Market House offices last year.

In these circumstances, Mr Angus said VAS was relying on “external funding and good management” to keep going, and fortunately had just received £500,000 of external funding. But that is not enough to alleviate the financial pressure.

VAS has 38 types of services in its remit, from advocacy to pre-school play. These are delivered by 78 volunteers and supported by 160 volunteer board or committee members.

It also supports 19 resident organisations, and is responsible for Disability Shetland, which has been going for 25 years and has 96 clients.

But funding for these services is “problematical”, with external funders over-subscribed and local funders often requiring repayment of surplus when external funding has been secured.

The coming year will present a challenge. Mr Angus said: “In this financial year VAS will be even harder pressed to respond to the eternal conundrum – how does one do more with less?”

Full capacity

Executive officer Catherine Hughson said that the support services they provide are at full capacity. Many third sector organisations, including VAS, have had budgets frozen for the past seven years, during which time the need for services has continually grown. Now, she warned, it might be difficult to take on more work.

Mrs Hughson said: “Unless we get additional assistance we can’t take on any more self-directed care support payroll administration. This particular service assists those individuals who receive assistance from the council to provide their own carers and therefore they become employers. We don’t want to stop services but it might take us longer to get the organisations or individuals the support they require.”

She added: “We don’t have the volunteers coming through the doors to meet the demand, just because a service is provided by the third sector, these organisations have the same overheads as the council or private provider. Services from the third sector are not cost neutral.”

Many third sector organisations, including VAS, could even face cuts, she said, but this will not be known until the council does its revenue estimate exercise at the end of the year. If the council does not make the expected savings, cuts could be made in the funding given to the third sector, which is seen as a “soft target”.

However cuts will not affect VAS’s involvement with the Change Fund – Reshaping Care for the Elderly. This is a government initiative working alongside NHS Scotland and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to reshape care and support services. It is led locally by the council’s community care service.

VAS has to be involved in this project as the government stipulates that the third sector is a partner. To this end VAS has commissioned research to identify gaps in provision and ways in which they could help.

This year VAS has piloted a carers’ centre which offers support to carers through drop-in sessions and group meetings. It also has an outreach service for the outer isles and remote areas.

One of the key functions of the organisation is to support volunteering, which it does through the Saltire awards which are given to people as young as 12.

It also now offers the Volunteer Friendly Award to groups for their work with volunteers. Community Mediation was the first to receive this award, followed by Advocacy Shetland, Shetland Befriending Scheme, which is looking for more volunteers, and the Peer Education Project. This project, which focuses on substance misuse and sexual health, was recently taken over by VAS from the Shetland Youth Information Service.

VAS also supports social enterprise, including the new Shetland Community Benefit Fund. This has meetings with Viking Energy and Scottish and Southern Energy to negotiate for the community benefit fund that is expected to be worth over £2m a year for the 25-year life of the project.



Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • June 19th, 2013 14:30

    If the SIC does not charge rent for VAS does that not mean it will have to cut the support, meaning that they will be in the same position as now, just that the money has not gone around in a circle? Which would make sense in a way, but how can the SIC possibly balance their books if buildings are all given away for free?

    I dont think VAS should be doing things like payroll and audits of OSCR charities which is work that could be done by Accountants (and has always traditionally been done by accountants, sometimes for free).

  • Jim Leask

    • June 20th, 2013 20:30

    @Johan – The work these charities and groups do will all be for the benefit of our community and Voluntary Action Shetland, in my opinion, should with out a doubt offer expertise and assitance to charities and voluntary group with regards to payroll and audits. Many of these charities and groups that seek assistance cannot afford to pay accountants and while some may be lucky enough to find an accountant willing to work for free….many are not! The costs of having to pay professionals for these services could leave many groups unable to cover their costs.

  • ivan coghill

    • June 20th, 2013 22:37

    It is unfortunate that a comparison has been made between voluntary services and Mareel, a music and cinema venue which should provide entertainment and culture to a broad swathe of the Shetland population.

    In these straightened times, surely a better comparison would be with those publicly-provided services which cater for those on higher incomes? Is it not curious that no comparison has been made with those “charities” which take from the poor and give to the rich?

    Perhaps the commentariat, the do-gooders and “managers” of Shetland are too busy enjoying the fine dining and wine in the public facility known as The Hays Dock Cafe. Afterwards, they may then drive out to Bonhoga, another subsidised “charity”, where they may purchase a subsidised painting.

    I believe that the plate glass windows in The Hays Dock Cafe offer magnificent views of the harbour. Sometimes, I am told, one can see poor people there.

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 21st, 2013 9:13

    As well as VAS, the SIC could use this lease for 99 years business to help the local country halls to do their repairs. I am sure they would love to have the building leased back to them, even for a peppercorn rent, in return for money for extensions, roofs, modernisation and fixing harling and blocks from the underspent capital fund.

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 21st, 2013 9:16

    @Jim Leask VAS is not cheap for an audit either. I think it would be easy for a genuine small group to find a free auditor. I do these for free, but I have to let VAS do one small group where I cant audit something I am Treasurer for. But it is stifling the private sector to have the SIC and VAS taking over these roles

  • ivan coghill

    • June 21st, 2013 12:40

    And then there was a deafening silence. Tumbleweeds were uncommon in Shetland. So, it was strange as they tumbled along. There was nothing but the whistle of the wind.

  • John Smith

    • June 23rd, 2013 14:29

    Johan perhaps you are “stifling the private sector” by doing audits for free! Alternatively you are supporting the community and voluntary sector just like VAS. This is to be applauded. Accounts can look after themselves from corporate fees and wealthy clients.

  • ivan coghill

    • June 24th, 2013 8:48

    … and the tumbleweeds, they tumbled …

  • Johan Adamson

    • June 24th, 2013 9:14

    I worry that we are just a step away from losing national accountancy firms here which would mean no more graduate training. There are wealthy individuals who go elsewhere, not trusting the locals, then there have been businesses who are more multi-national now, going to bigger firms, then the SIC do wages for all of the public sector, and VAS do the other work. It is a case of use it or lose it for the accountancy firms, just like with the local shops. Visit Scotland are steering away from running a business which belongs in the private sector, so should the other public bodies.

  • ivan coghill

    • June 25th, 2013 19:48

    The Hays Dock Cafe – a state bistro. Bonhoga – a state picture shop. And the tumbleweeds, they tumbled.


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