I know how to save! (Elisabeth Nicolson)

I read the banner headline in The Shetland Times: “Sustainable budget” achieved by Shetland Islands Council.

The following day Ways to Save, a glossy, coloured booklet from the council, arrived at my house by post. Imagine the cost of that.

So much for the pensioners’ Christmas bonus, calculated more than 30 years ago. The sum was related to the cost of a ton of coal for your Rayburn cooker.

Now, I find myself too rich for the Christmas bonus, but poor enough to receive housing benefit. So it seems that I am to save a bonus for myself, from my little. Save for what, I ask you?

Having started my nursing career on £120 a year, my present old age pension is more than that each week. I have been skrimping all my life, more especially during the 22 years after my marriage, when I had no professional employment.

I did enjoy watching the Channel 4 programme Super Skrimpers, but the older ladies on this programme, all about my own age, taught me nothing that I didn’t already do, about saving money.

My money goes to pay for essentials and to allow for pleasures, as I am able to afford them. None of this was helped by being made redundant last year, from my little SIC cleaning job, in an effort to save the council money!

I require no help of this sort from Shetland Islands Council, least of all at this special time of year, which is supposed to be full of goodwill to the old and the poor.

It would do no harm for the senders of this booklet to remember that, if you don’t die young, old age will surely arrive. Then you, too, will receive How to Save from Shetland Islands Council.

Elisabeth Nicolson
16 Nikkavord Lea,


Add Your Comment
  • Jonathan Wills

    • December 13th, 2014 14:15

    I’m sorry Elisabeth takes exception to the booklet the council sent her. It was well-intentioned.
    The Christmas bonus is from the Shetland Charitable Trust, not from the council. All the trust’s disbursements are charitable. They have to be, or we’d end up paying tax to the Treasury. Some years ago we could not prove to the Inland Revenue that all the Christmas bonus payments were going to people who actually needed them. At one point the trust was paying £100,000 a year in tax as a result. Elisabeth will recall that the whole purpose of setting up a charitable trust in 1976 was to keep the Treasury’s hands off the Shetland people’s oil money.
    The trust’s charitable disbursements are the reason Unst has an old people’s care centre, a leisure centre and a pool, among other services in remote areas assisted over many years by the trust. The trust’s accounts and the trust deed are public so if Elisabeth or anyone else believes trustees are making unwarranted payments then she should complain to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) in Dundee.
    What the charitable trust is not equipped to do (and never was, really) is to act as a benefits agency. That’s the Government’s job. Elisabeth’s criticisms of the welfare system in this country (with which I agree) should be directed to her MP, Alistair Carmichael, who’s a member of David Cameron’s cabinet and for the past four and a half years has propped up and defended the lamentable changes to the benefits system which have made so many people so much worse off.
    The reasons for ending the Christmas bonus are real, not excuses. Even if we had the staff to run a means test we could not get the information because the Government will no longer share it with us, due to the Data Protection Act. So it simply cannot be operated fairly.
    In Alaska they hand out an annual cheque from their oil fund to every citizen in the state. It can be as much as a thousand dollars a head. I suppose we could do the same here. Every man, woman and child in Shetland would then get £434.78p in their Santa sock. But would that be the most efficient way to use the money? Would it produce the same good effects as the charitable trust has over the past 38 years? I don’t think so. In Shetland we prefer to target need where it exists, rather than dishing out cheques to everyone.
    There are still too many poor people in Shetland and the trust helps them as best it can, by funding other organisations which have the specialist knowledge and expertise to provide services to those who need them – not just the elderly but also the disabled and others in difficult personal circumstances. The full list of these beneficiaries and how much they receive is published every year. It includes many small charities and also Voluntary Action Shetland, which provides office accommodation and administrative help to many of them.
    I can assure Elisabeth that Shetland Charitable Trust will always be charitable and the trustees are determined to manage the fund carefully, so that this happy state of affairs can continue in perpetuity.

    • Chris Johnston

      • December 13th, 2014 22:30

      “Would it produce the same good effects as the charitable trust has over the past 38 years?”

      A classic central government conceit is the government knows what you need better than you do. This conceit is generally expressed as, “You can trust me. I am from the government and I am here to help.”

    • John Tulloch

      • December 14th, 2014 21:24


      I hear what you’re saying about the SCT and I agree, it has brought a lot of good to Shetland.

      I accept I’m fairly ignorant of council procedure in this area, however, I’m not convinced that, just because means testing is too onerous, all such options have been exhausted, and venture the following questions:

      Reportedly, research by SIC’s Emma Perring has found that a third of Shetland households are in fuel poverty and nearly 1500 spend a fifth, or more, of their income on heating.

      How were these figures were arrived at? Does SIC know which households are affected? If not, why not?

      Why can’t claimants be asked “Are you on benefits?” If so, why can’t they show the evidence themselves e.g. a benefit cheque/statement/etc?

      Do they require a “Home Help”? Do they receive “Meals on Wheels”?

      Are they unemployed?

      Does the government pay their rent? Can they show that?

      Do they receive a Council Tax rebate?

      Surely, the council must have umpteen lists of potential beneficiaries?

      I’m not suggesting all these criteria should be applied, that would be complex, however, surely, somebody with a brain can sit down and consider a simple rationale for paying, say, a Xmas heating allowance which could then be administered by, say, leisure centre clerical staff, if necessary, paid overtime on a Saturday (“Quelle horreur!”).

      Surely, the social work dept knows who is in need of assistance, otherwise, their own efforts could be misdirected?

  • Michael Garriock

    • December 13th, 2014 18:23

    So, Jonathan, as a SCT trustee, what you and apparently the SCT are basically saying is this. If someone is physically too decrepit to make any meaningful use of the facilities offered by the Arts and Recreational Trusts, the services offered by SIC Social Work, or Disability Recreational Club, assuming of course that those things hold any interest to them anyway, isn’t interested in the arts in general, isn’t a child, doesn’t have learning difficulties or mental health issues, isn’t particularly interested in The New Shetlander magazine, or has any particular need to consult the services of the Citizens Advice Bureau, can’t stand Accordion and Fiddle music, or folk music, and isn’t religious or interested in sailing, but is still competent enough that they wish to preserve whatever little independence they have and not commit themselves to a home, and have the misfortune the their only source of income is state benefits (which you admit in principle are poor), and due to their decrepitude have no means by which to improve upon that. Then all the SCT has to say to them, despite they arguably being stuck on the bottom of the pile, is “too bad, we really cannot be bothered to find a way to give you a leg up”.

    How very “charitable” of you, how very “charitable” of you indeed!

    • Jonathan Wills

      • December 14th, 2014 8:23

      What I’m saying is what I wrote, Mr Garriock. You choose to twist it into something that fits your own perceptions. That is your choice.

      • Michael Garriock

        • December 15th, 2014 9:24

        Well, Mr Wills, if, as you allege, I am not interpreting your letter correctly. Perhaps you would be so kind as answer a simple query, using little words wherever possible of course, if you would, so as ensure I don’t misunderstand anything this time.

        What say you, or any of your colleagues on the SCT who voted to end the “Christmas Bonus” scheme, when a pensioner or disabled person with no other means than state benefits, asks you. How come for two generations someone in their self same position was judged deserving of a little additional charitable financial assistance from the oil riches their island had accrued, but suddenly they are no longer deserving and must do the best they can in the future on whatever pittance Westminster deigns to throw their way only?

        Its highly unlikely Westminster has become appreciably more generous since 1976, in all likelihood they’ve become more miserly. So how come the goalposts on what is and isn’t “needy” in the SCT’s judgement, have moved now?

        I agree the SCT isn’t and never was intended to be a benefits agency, but the fact of the matter is, the SCT allowed itself to effectively become exactly that when it started paying such things as the “Christmas Bonus”, and have apparently happily performed in that role for almost 40 years, until now. Simply pulling the plug on that “benefits agency” role which they’ve allowed themselves to perform for so long and walking away, simply because its something the SCT was never intended for, and due to changes in legislation would now need to put in place an effective system to administer it, is arguably neither charitable, ethical or morally acceptable behaviour for an organisation such as the SCT.

        It is no use trying to hide behind the big bogeymen of the Data Protection Act and the DWP, as they’re nothing but a smokescreen for the SCT’s current disinterest and apathy in assisting the needy in the way the “Christmas Bonus” has. The DWP was never under any obligation to co-operate with the SCT in any way, and it was foolish of the SCT to view the co-operation they did get from them as anything other than a temporary solution while a more permanent one was put in place.

        As I have said elsewhere, to claim any means tested state benefit, an applicant must provide proof of income and savings to the DWP for their claim to be successful. The DWP appear to accept the evidence provided if accompanied with a signed declaration of accuracy by the claimant, at face value, and pay out accordingly on validated claims.

        Until and unless the SCT provides a plausible and reasonable explanation as to why an identical system of information gathering and vetting could not or would not be workable for the SCT, and ensure that “Christmas Bonus” payments only went to the most “needy”. The conclusion can only be made that the SCT have no interest in providing charitable support to such individuals, who are arguably among the neediest of the population.

        How much need it cost to put in place a system to check and record the application details, benefit award letter(s) and bank statements of a few hundred claims anyway. If it takes any more the a seasonal post adding under £10k in wages and costs to the scheme, you’re doing it wrong. And is it not better to spend circa £10k extra and ensure that as few individuals as possible have to make a choice between buying heating or food through the winter, than just wash your hands of it all and leave folk (literally) out in the cold.

  • Ali Inkster

    • December 13th, 2014 19:13

    You have taken the time to blow your trumpet about how the funds are distributed and all the good you have done and all the good you could do if only you had the staff. Now it is funny you should mention staff as I was speaking to someone today who worked for the council many moons ago, they were their department at that time and the job they did they did on a weekly basis for all council staff. Now there are twice as many staff working for the council, the particular job is now done on a monthly basis and the department employs 9 people to do it. So half the work and 9 times the folk doing it and computers to handle the bulk of it. Maybe with a bit of co-operation between the council the DWP and the CT it really would not be that difficult to find the staff and the time (if only there is the will) to get a list of folk on income support and cross reference it with the folk who are on a pension and pay them the xmas bonus. Maybe some of the folks drawing salary from the CT for the windfarm could give up a few hours to help out. Maybe you might also take the time to explain why those CT coffers are not getting filled by payments from Total at least in line with payments received from BP. WHY THE SILENCE? you not usually so backward in coming forward with your version of the truth.

    • Jonathan Wills

      • December 14th, 2014 8:35

      I don’t normally reply to people who shout in block capitals, but if Mr Inkster reads the public papers for the trust meeting he will see that, however many staff the trust and the council had, it is not possible to get the information required in order to administer the Christmas bonus scheme fairly. This is mainly because the Government cannot and will not make available the information it has about benefit claimants’ personal financial details. Which part of this does Mr Inkster not understand?
      As for the trust, I’ve been blowing its trumpet for 38 years. Mr Inkster has just been too busy shouting to notice.

      • Ali Inkster

        • December 14th, 2014 18:00

        And yet again you fail to answer the question that was highlighted by the block capitals, So I will ask it yet again this time in a simple enough form so as you can’t get confused Jonathan. Why is the Total deal worth so little and who was responsible for agreeing to such a poor deal?

      • Ali Inkster

        • December 14th, 2014 18:03

        And in reply to your excuses If someone is in receipt of income support surely that is enough to warrant a Christmas bonus. Why the hell would you want to be pocking around any more than that into their financial affairs. Like I said before where there is a will there is a way but where there is a Wills there is only lame excuses.

      • Rachel Buchan

        • December 14th, 2014 18:04

        Are you absolutely sure that you can’t get the information from the government? If I apply for my “warm house” grant, or whatever it’s called, I will have to state which benefits I’m on. I claim housing benefit. And I will shortly have to start paying £32 pounds a week to Annsbrae House, because I receive 2 hours of outreach per week, if I don’t fill in a form detailing the money coming into and going out of my house. Surely the Hydro, Annsbrae, and the finance department don’t just take the information that I’ve given them for granted?

      • Michael Garriock

        • December 15th, 2014 0:29

        “….it is not possible to get the information required in order to administer the Christmas bonus scheme fairly”.

        That’s just a cop out, and passing the buck by all appearances.

        The Government requires that any claimant of means tested benefit(s) provide them with full, current and accurate details of their financial position to prove their “need”, and sign to that effect under pain of penalty.

        It is of course the Government’s perogative to decide who, if anyone, they share such information with, and seeing as the Government won’t currently share that information with the SCT. Whats stopping the SCT themselves requesting identical information direct from claimants as a condition of a “Christmas Bonus” claim to prove the same “need”, unless lack of will on the part of the SCT?

  • Charles Forsyth

    • December 13th, 2014 19:34

    I’ll take my £434.78p please sounds like Alaska has a very sensible and equitable way of dispersing the citizens oil money. What a good idea!

  • Andy holt

    • December 13th, 2014 21:05

    Jonathan, ” In Shetland we prefer to target need where it exists, rather than dishing out cheques to everyone?” So the needy not the greedy? Ten million to the needy shareholders of Scottish and Southern Energy and not a windmill to show for it. The Trust has done admirable work over the years and of course we understand it’s not a benefits agency. By the same token should a Charitable Trust be gambling in the venture capital markets with money belonging to the people of Shetland? For make no mistake, this “investment” is a gamble, predicated on an as yet unlaid undersea interconnector cableand continuing government-backed high subsidy handouts.

  • James Mackenzie

    • December 14th, 2014 11:47

    There seems to be a lot of obfuscation going on here. For one thing, it was not the Christmas Bonus but the Financial Hardship Scheme that was abolished on Thursday. The report that recommended closure of the scheme mentioned nothing about taxation, or about acting as a benefits agency or the Data Protection Act.

    As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, it was agreed by SCT earlier this year that the scheme was to be reviewed next year along with other disbursements. So this report and the trustees’ decision appear to have been premature.

    Both Jonathan Wills and his colleague Drew Ratter have been quoted in the media as saying that things have changed or that the world has moved on. I’d very much like them to assure us that they have changed for the better.

  • David Spence

    • December 14th, 2014 20:31

    ‘ This is mainly because the Government cannot and will not make available the information it has about benefit claimants’ personal financial details. ‘

    Jonathan, surely such information can be gained by the person claiming the Christmas bonus? All it would take would be for that person to get a letter (from the relevant benefit department) from the DWP to confirm what benefits they are claiming and to pass on this to the CT (Christmas Bonus Section)?

    Another point, why would the DWP or the Government (vile Tories) refuse a Council (part of the Government Services one presumes (regardless of what political party may rule this area)) this information if it was for the Christmas Bonus, but give the Council the same information if it was related to Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit ? Surely the CT could get the relevant information via these sources?

    Can you please verify exactly why the CT cannot get this information via the DWP or present Government? There does seem to be a contradiction with the CT in regards too this considering the many other options to which they can gain this information.

  • iantinkler

    • December 14th, 2014 21:00

    Jonathan Wills, now he is leaving the council, is certainly leaving behind plenty for us to remember him by, some legacy!

  • Johan Adamson

    • December 15th, 2014 9:18

    I am at a loss to see what has changed. The Data Protection Act has been there for a very long time and I am fairly sure that when funds were disbursed before it was by means of asking the claimant for evidence that they are in need. Are they scared of those who erroneously claim? That would be nonsense, as I am sure that would very much be the minority of people.

  • John Tulloch

    • December 15th, 2014 18:57

    Many of the problems at SCT have stemmed from the bitter controversy over the Trust’s involvement in the Viking Energy project which is, or at least, was, due to come to a head at the UK Supreme Court hearing on Sustainable Shetland’s challenge to the Scottish government’s award of planning consent for the project, this Thursday.

    However, it seems the redoubtable Stuart Hill has challenged the court’s jurisdiction over Orkney and Shetland, something I have, inexplicably, not seen reported by any Shetland news media outlet.

    Here’s an excerpt from Stuart’s newsletter which beeped its way into my Inbox, today:

    “On Thursday there is an appeal hearing at the Supreme Court in London to decide the legality of the Scottish Government’s permission to erect a giant wind farm in Shetland……(which)………. gives us the chance to challenge the UK government in the highest court in the land.

    When I enquired from the court how I should make such a challenge, I was told I had to get the permission of the parties, fill in Form 2, and then ask the permission of the court itself. I could see this getting bogged down in red tape in the short time available, so decided to take the risk of ignoring their procedures and simply sending them a notice. After a protracted email correspondence with the clerk of the court, during which he did his best to steer me down the official route and avoid my direct questions, today I finally got the news that my papers are on the file. This means they can’t be ignored by the judges (4 law lords) and, if they follow the proper procedures, they must have a hearing on jurisdiction before hearing the main case. The onus is on the party bringing the appeal to show the court that it has jurisdiction – this means that somebody has to prove that Shetland is part of Scotland.”

    If no more is achieved, this, alone, is history in the making, if Stuart Hill’s challenge is upheld, it could be “Hasta la vista” to both Viking Energy and Scottish nationalism, yet we know nothing about it.


    • Christopher Ritch

      • December 16th, 2014 11:04

      This was reported on the SIBC news a few days ago, John.

      • John Tulloch

        • December 16th, 2014 15:53

        Thanks, Christopher, I understand it was also reported in Shetland News, albeit, as a very small item, so my apologies to those who did cover it.

        I don’t get Shetland local radio here, however, I was really hoping for a bit more detail and analysis of how it relates to various issues, including the ones I mentioned above than, to my knowledge, has been seen to date.

        To me, if no-one else, it’s a fascinating subject but it seems nobody wants to mention it with anything more than the minimum possible coverage.

    • Brian Smith

      • December 16th, 2014 17:04

      Why? because it’s drivel.


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