Criticism has been levelled at Shetland Charitable Trust after its chairman rejected growing pressure to contribute to grant aid for youth projects.
One youth leader insisted she has been “aggrieved” by Bobby Hunter’s claims that the trust had “never been asked” to continue offering money to support youth clubs which were being forced to dramatically tighten their belts.
Mr Hunter had also said the trust had no “detailed knowledge” of the financial positions of any youth groups.
Scalloway Youth Centre chairwoman Sonia Inkster said the trust was made aware of a need for funding on at least two occasions – once in 2013 and again in August this year, and insisted the body could be left in no doubt of the predicament youth groups had faced.
Council leader Gary Robinson also confirmed to this newspaper that a letter was being drafted from the SIC and would be sent to the trust.
Councillors were last week sympathetic to the idea of continuing community support, following recent fears that youth centres at Scalloway, Sandwick and Livister in Whalsay would close if the funding pot previously offered by the council and trust was allowed to run dry in March.
The centres had already endured 25 per cent cuts to their funding over two years. But elected members last Thursday recommended that a new aid scheme be introduced to make £80,000 available for grants of up to 75 per cent for sports and community organisations.
The committee also agreed to make a formal approach to the trust to reverse its cutbacks and contribute to the scheme.
However, Mr Hunter has subsequently voiced “confusion” over the call from the town hall.
“My reaction is one of surprise,” he said. “The council closed the scheme, we [the trust] didn’t close the scheme. They closed the scheme and said they didn’t need the money. And then a year later they created a new scheme.
“And in the [development] report they had creating the scheme – the new scheme – it was clear from their officials that the charitable trust had set its budgets.”
During last week’s meeting Mr Robinson said he hoped the trust would consider its contribution not as a new bid, but as an existing one.
However, Mr Hunter said there had been no communication to that effect from the SIC.
“We haven’t received a letter from the council yet asking us.” he said.
“We can’t sit on our hands for a year waiting on the council to change their minds to set up another grant system.
“We have never had any detailed knowledge of the groups. So we’ve never had any knowledge of the financial positions of the groups.”
Mrs Inkster said she was “vexed” by that and other comments made by Mr Hunter in previous Shetland Times coverage over the issue.
She said: “Bobby was saying that the charitable trust had never been asked by youth centres. The simple fact of the matter is, youth centres went to the charitable trust in November 2013, really concerned about the cuts to youth centres.
“We met with [trust chief executive] Ann Black … and the council grants officer was there. That was when we first heard about the cuts the council was planning.
“We were saying, quite clearly then, youth centres were going to struggle with the 25 per cent cuts, never mind any future cuts. They were well aware of the situation with youth centres then.
“We certainly wrote to the charitable trust on 27th August. So we’ve asked them again for support. So they can’t say that they’ve no been asked.”
She also highlighted previous comments by Mr Hunter that the trust had “no mechanism” to continue its grant support.
“They have a mechanism to pay grants to the SRT, the arts trust … So I didn’t quite grasp that one. I do feel aggrieved that the charitable trust has withdrawn grant support – not just for youth centres, but for all the youth voluntary groups. Every group is in the same position.
“The charitable trust was set up to support the children and young people, and elderly and voluntary groups. I think it’s disappointing the charitable trust is not seeing the value in investing in the next generation, now.”
Mrs Inkster welcomed the decision by SIC councillors to examine introducing a new grants scheme.
Although the idea was warmly welcomed in the chamber it still has to pass further council hurdles. But a number of elected members – both publicly and privately – have been supportive of the idea.
“The reaction of the youth centre groups is they are delighted with the decision of the development committee because it means that’s on the agenda for the policy and resources now,” Mrs Inkster said.
“There was very positive feedback from councillors at that meeting.”
Mr Robinson said the contribution from the trust was a “relatively small amount” that had the potential to make a big difference.
He insisted councillors had acted reasonably by asking the trust to think again – likening it to the search for funding for educational initiatives, which saw elected members send requests to the trust and NHS.
“I don’t think it needs to be the kind of big issue that Bobby [Hunter] seems to be making it.
“We’ve had occasions in the past, such as the Peer Education Programme, where we went back to the charitable trust and the NHS to see if they would consider contributing. The NHS wrote back saying they didn’t think they could help us this time but they would bear it in mind.
“That’s a bit of a contrast from the kind of indignation we seem to have from the charitable trust when we’ve made a similar approach.
“All we’ve done is agreed to write to them and say ‘please will you reconsider the funding for this?’
“Whether or not this is a new bid to me is no more than semantics, because it’s money paying for the same thing.
“If they want to say they are closed to new bids and they consider this a new bid then, that’s their prerogative to do that. Certainly in respect of the trust’s deed it’s exactly the kind of thing they can invest in.
“It’s a relatively small amount of money. I think it’s about £56,000 a year, but it had the potential to make quite a difference in this sector.”