Shetland Charitable Trust has faced some fierce criticism over recent months as the organisation has grappled to bring its finances under control. Chairman BOBBY HUNTER writes that spending had to be curbed or various sectors faced “fatal consequences” and he explains why there is still reason to be “positive”.
When I was elected chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust almost three years ago, it was very clear that trustees faced several major challenges.
In particular, we knew that we were spending our funds – funds each of us had been appointed to take custodianship of on behalf of the community – at an unsustainable rate.
The choice confronting trustees was straightforward: change nothing and preside over a trust whose financial policy was openly to spend itself out of existence, with potentially fatal consequences for the arts, leisure, sport, heritage and for voluntary and many other groups in Shetland, or adjust our spending to ensure the trust’s long-term viability.
Acting responsibly, we embarked upon a long and difficult process that culminated in the decision of trustees at their meeting in May of this year gradually to reduce spending to £8.5 million per annum by 2020.
Throughout the two years we spent working on our proposals, holding discussions with affected bodies and assessing the impact of spending reductions, none of us in our hearts truly wanted to take this road.
But at the same time we knew that we had to be realistic; that if we didn’t change direction the next generation of Shetland bairns would miss out on the benefits that past and present generations of bairns have enjoyed.
Inevitably, our decision generated criticism in the community, most of it focused on the short- to medium-term impact.
But I saw it, and still see it, as a positive decision which will ensure that quality of life in Shetland is enhanced for our grand-bairns and their bairns.
That does not mean, as some have suggested, that I am unsympathetic to those who will have to adapt to a new financial reality. Far from it. I wish the situation could be different.
We have done our best at a difficult time to minimise the impact: the reductions will be phased in over four years; the budget will be considered every year to ensure it remains relevant, and our spending will be fully reviewed in 2019-20.
We are also reviewing the other side of the trust’s activities – the investment strategy which determines how we go about earning money with the funds we have – and trustees will shortly be examining the outcome of that process.
But amid all these discussions, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that no other community in the country is fortunate enough to have an organisation like Shetland Charitable Trust.
And that is down to the foresight and wisdom of those within Zetland County Council and subsequently Shetland Islands Council in establishing the statutory basis for a body of this kind and then going on to create Shetland Islands Council Charitable Trust in 1976.
In recent years, the trust has evolved to adapt to reformed charity law and governance requirements.
But its original purpose of supporting charitable activity for the benefit of the inhabitants of Shetland remains unchanged.
And as such, the trust has a strong and positive relationship with Shetland Islands Council. We continue to work with the council and the other organisations in the Shetland Partnership for the greater good of the isles.
Change is not easy for any of us to deal with, particularly so in a community which has benefited so handsomely from the stroke of good fortune which smiled on us in the 1970s, in the shape of North Sea oil.
The wider challenge for the community is how to marshal what remains of the fortune as best we can for the future, and Shetland Charitable Trust will play a positive part in that.