Just following the council (Jonathan Wills)

I was a bit surprised to see my friend Gary Robinson’s reported remarks criticising the Shetland Charitable Trust.

I’m reluctant to have a public dispute with him, as I’m a supporter of most of what he’s done as council leader.

However, as Gary knows very well, the trust is only following Shetland Islands Council’s example in belatedly (and painfully) bringing its spending under control, in order not to waste the trust’s reserves, as a former council administration diminished its own nest egg.

Unlike the council, if the trust uses capital as if it were revenue and ends up by spending down the charitable funds to zero, the government will not step in to ensure that vital public services continue.

The trust is on its own and the trustees have a clear duty, as well as a stated policy, to maintain the trust fund in perpetuity. This is for the long-term benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries, including partner organisations such as the council and the NHS.

It is not true to say that the trust hasn’t “engaged” with the beneficiaries. All were warned that cuts were on the way and, in view of the possible effects on staffing at other trusts and organisations, the trust took care to ensure that they did not find out the scale of the cuts from the media, but rather were informed at private meetings with trust staff.

The reaction of major beneficiaries such as Shetland Amenity Trust has been measured and reasonable. They understand that by phasing in these unavoidable cuts in budgets over four years, rather than in a single year as the financial situation might appear to dictate, trustees have actually agreed to spend about £2 million of the fund’s capital.

We judged that loss preferable to the serious disruption that would have resulted from overnight withdrawal of funding.

I was present at many of the discussions that wrestled with the financial quandary facing the trust and I can assure your readers that all trustees were extremely reluctant to spend less than we currently do on the many good causes we support.

In the end we agreed what I think was a reasonable, defensible and fair compromise, albeit very painful to many of us.

Gary’s position on the future of the trust is the same as mine: there should be no councillor trustees and the trust should always include a directly-elected majority, in addition to a minority of trustees co-opted for their skills, experience and public spirit.

The constitutional position of Shetland Charitable Trust is quite clear and I hope Gary will understand why I believe it should retain its recently-gained independence.

The trust is not legally part of the public administration of these islands, which is and ought always to be administered and paid for by the Scottish government and Shetland Islands Council.

Trustees will no doubt always be willing, within the limits of their budgets, to help pay for extras to improve the life of the inhabitants of Shetland, particularly those who are disadvantaged for various reasons, but they cannot and will not become part of local government. Been there; done that …

Jonathan Wills


Add Your Comment
  • Johan Adamson

    • June 19th, 2015 10:52

    ‘The trust is on its own and the trustees have a clear duty, as well as a stated policy, to maintain the trust fund in perpetuity. This is for the long-term benefit of the trust’s beneficiaries, including partner organisations such as the council and the NHS.’

    Can you let me know how else it could maintain this fund apart from decreasing spending?

    A question on the interconnector too. When discussing the siting of wind turbines recently, I was told that you needed to site them close by to where the power is used otherwise the energy diminishes on its way through a long cable. Therefore can anyone tell me how much power would actually reach the mainland from VE?

    • Aaron Smith

      • June 19th, 2015 11:44

      You can top up the fund by charging BP and Total, rather than subsidising them.

      • Jonathan Wills

        • June 19th, 2015 15:54

        We subsidise neither.

      • Ali Inkster

        • June 19th, 2015 18:40

        When you let them use the terminal for next to nothing we are subsidising them Jonathan.

  • Sandy McMillan

    • June 19th, 2015 18:33

    Johnathan Wills, States the Council were to leave the reserve fund as it was, Wills does not state who will benefit from the SCT, Will it be the Pensioners, Disabled, I very much doubt it, they turned down ligitamate cases last year, from getting the Christmas Bonus all because of one word, Yes Johnathan one word (Savings,)
    I was means tested along with the rest or rather Humiliated, Has the Shetland Charitable Trust never heard of our Democratic Country, Means testing went out with the Ark, would any of the Charitable Trust Members like to be means tested, If so put your self forward and see how humiliating it can be, what are they holding on to the cash for, I understood it was to help the needy, Not the likes of Viking Energy.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • June 20th, 2015 20:13

    You are so right, Sandy. Why should we be degraded in this way when the likes of Viking Energy and the charitable trust, never get questioned, or, more accurately, never answer questions.

  • ian tinkler

    • June 21st, 2015 13:47

    Somehow I am not surprised Jonathon Wills and his cohorts are doing a Cameron Osborne ” Austerity cut” on us all. How he wallows in a long vein of hypocrisy! How some things never change.

  • David Spence

    • June 21st, 2015 15:23

    I believe that these cuts Local Authorities are having to do are due to this vile Tory Governments agenda of undermining the Local Authorities Services by slashing the budgets, forcing Local Authorities to bring in the private sector (especially within the NHS) to do works which are costing the Tax Payer a lot more than it would if they had the staff in the first place, a Government which is determined to transfer the whole state run system to the private sector, where it will be the Government itself will benefit (shareholders to the private companies taking over LA services). As well as this, nobody is questioning the massive short-fall the state has as a result of giving £142 billion to the biggest rooks in society, the banks.

    These cuts the Council are being forced, along with the SCT, are a direct result of events which happened not that long ago……..the so-called Bank Crisis on 2008-2009, but to smaller communities being forced to make cuts, the effect to the SIC is far greater due to our population and location.

    These cuts are totally unjustified and are wrong for so many reasons……….mainly these austerity cuts and what has been already mentioned.

    The agenda of this vile Tory Government is hitting rural communities far greater, and we are beginning to see the impact of these cuts on the SCT…………….and there is a link between the SCT and the services the SIC provide.

    • Steven Jarmson

      • June 24th, 2015 17:06

      Is it not EU law that all public contracts, except the likes of defence, must be competitively tendered?
      Get out of the EU and we can have our public services back in public control.
      Is it not also true that the SNP government in Scotland is under spending its block grant, therefore hitting local authorities harder the necessary?
      Is it not also true that the SNP government has admitted underfunding the SIC but won’t give us the money they admit we were due?
      And lastly, I it not also true that the SNP have been keeping our £10M per annum to service our housing debt?
      How much more can the SNP take from our islands before people waken up?
      Our services could be better funded if we got our “fair share” from the Scottish Government.
      But, of they gave us what we needed they couldn’t give that little extra to Gladgow & Central Scotland, which is the only are these people give any thoughts too.

  • Iantinkler

    • June 21st, 2015 20:32

    The SCT is totally independent of this vile Tory Government, it however has learnt that to have the funds to squander on VE, it needs a touch of torie financial prudence to prosper. Just like the UK is doing under the vile torie government. What a shame the left wingers of the past sold their souls to the bankers. Nice one socialism, nearly bankrupted us all.

  • John Tulloch

    • June 27th, 2015 19:54


    You wrote: “Gary’s position on the future of the trust is the same as mine: there should be no councillor trustees and the trust should always include a directly-elected majority,……”

    When do you envisage this happy situation will transpire and what steps are being taken by the Trust to bring it about?


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