Trust cuts are charitable Althing decides

An Althing debate touted by one punter as an epic “rumble in the jungle” turned out to be a rout in the Staney Hill as the opponents of the motion “the charitable trust cuts are not charitable” stilled the voices of revolution with a remarkable display of reasoning.

A straw poll before the debate, which was held for the first time at the Staney Hill Hall, showed 11 hands for the motion, with only three against, and 17 undecided. It was a healthy turnout for what promised to be a controversial motion and audience members continued to file in after the initial vote was taken.

Introduced by chairwoman Genevieve White as a “well-known dentist” Ian Tinkler, proposing the motion, is a vociferous and vitriolic terror of The Shetland Times cybercolumns. He proved more of a pussycat in the debating chamber: at times halting, he eventually ground to a complete halt.

Dr Jonathan Wills speaking at the Althing.

Mr Tinkler began outlining the self-defined objectives of the Shetland Charitable Trust an its wholly owned subsidiary Shetland Leasing and Properties (Slap). None of these mission statements (published on the organisations’ own websites) gell with their present activities, he alleged, citing the sale of land that houses the engineering firm HNP to a developer.

Mr Tinkler scored some points with the audience when he brought up the controversial sale which was “destroying” the well known locally owned firm. He also cited the trust’s hiring of a PR company in times of cutbacks as a “crazy way” of addressing the perceived lack of accountability of the trust and the reticence of the Slap chairwoman to speak to the press. It is “unethical” and “commercial Rachmanism”, he said.

Next Mr Tinkler trained his sights on Viking Energy – an investment that the trust was “gambling” millions of pounds of public money on.

However opposition leader Jonathan Wills, who is vice-chairman of the charitable trust, was having none of it. Dr Wills said that he had seen some “whacky motions” in the 53 years since he first spoke at the Althing, but this one was really “off the wall.”

He asked how many people had actually attended a charitable trust meeting, and, receiving a paltry show of hands, invited people to come to trust meetings and indeed stand as trustees.He also spoke of the “serial abuse” that infested the “online version of the medieval witch trials.”

Dr Wills explained the history and status of the trust and the legal parameters within which it had to operate. Above all, he emphasised that the trust had to cut its cloth to fit the financial realities of day, and this meant cutbacks now to ensure charity in the future.

Seconding the motion, Shetland Times accountant Johan Adamson, an Althing newbie, gave her version of how she would handle the finances of a slimmed-down and streamlined trust which would operate minus the various professional fees that it is encumbered with.

Finally, SCT trustee James Smith, who introduced an element of humour to the debate, powerfully reiterated Dr Wills position that cuts were charitable if they helped guarantee the trust’s future ability to give money to good causes. The trust would be bust, he said, by 2059 at best if spending continued unabated, and as early as 2048 in a worst case scenario.

After tea and bannocks, the panel then faced interrogation from the audience, mainly directed at Wills and Smith.

Most persistent questioners were Kathy Greaves and long-term SCT critic Pete Hamilton. Chris Bunyan pointed out that for all of the heat of the debate – very little of it had focussed on the motion.

When the final show of hands was taken, it was a resounding vindication for the opponents of the motion. Only five still believed the trust’s cuts were uncharitable while 20 disagreed and 12 were still undecided. It was a clear majority.

For more on the Althing debate, see Friday’s Shetland Times.


Add Your Comment
  • John Tulloch

    • January 18th, 2016 10:52

    It is to the great credit of Ian and Johan that, as critics of SCT, they were sufficiently game to take on its illustrious vice chairman and prominent, long-serving trustee on such a, not at all “wacky,” motion but one which was so readily amenable to being drawn down a blind alley, namely, the separate question of whether cuts are actually necessary – a daunting prospect, indeed.

    So to be clear, the motion referred to the charitable “nature” of the cuts, not their financial “necessity”.

    As reported, Mr Tinkler made several substantive points relevant to the motion, which found favour with the audience and Ms Adamson made some pertinent comments on improving the operational efficiency of the Trust.

    Jonathan and Jimmy Smith, it appears, argued for the financial “necessity” of the cuts and thus failed to address the actual motion.

    They managed to persuade the audience the debate was about the “necessity” of the cuts as opposed to their “charitability” or otherwise and consequently won the debate because the need for cuts is not debateable.

    A classical example of politicians’ tactics.

    • Johan Adamson

      • January 19th, 2016 11:53

      They found it really hard to get speakers for this debate as no one was willing to speak out against SCT. Quite a lot of people depend on their funding. As a rookie I felt a bit fed to the lions, however, I am glad I had a go. I should have spoken up a lot more about the fact that people have lost their jobs in some of the supported organisations, but none of the audience, some of which have lost colleagues, brought this up either, and seemed happy that as long as SCT still had a money to pass on to the next generation and not spend, that is OK. We can proudly stand by and count our pennies whilst others go without. How charitable is that?

  • iantinkler

    • January 18th, 2016 11:26

    Difficult to debate against the cuts, when overspend in years gone by has cost Shetland and the Trust so much? Interesting, Jonathan Wills admitted, for the first time, that Viking Energy may not be the goldmine/ cash cow, he and his pals have so long has advocated it to be. He blamed me for that! I do hope he is right, but he is just flattering me. Strange is it not, with the best possible advice, which the Trust paid so dearly for, the advisers failed to predict public opinion and never saw me coming. Perhaps, Viking Energy and the Trust should have asked Shetlanders whether they wanted VE or not. That way, they may have saved £7.5 million or so and the present cuts could have been reduced or avoided

  • John N Hunter

    • January 18th, 2016 13:06

    Perhaps the motion should have been “should the Charitable Trust have spent £7 million on Viking or invested the money elsewhere so that it had more income available for grants”

  • Michael Garriock

    • January 18th, 2016 17:40

    Whether or not the cuts are “charitable” is hardly the point, they are necessary if the SCT is to have a long term future, just as they were necessary over 30 years ago. The saddest thing about the whole sorry SCT affair is that trustees didn’t have the guts to make them then, or even 20 or 10 years ago, and have allowed those they fund to become accustomed to a certain standard of operations for an extended period, only now to have the rug pulled from out under their feet now. Had the SCT had the gumption, or perhaps it was guts, to have lived within its means and re-invested even 10% of its annual income every year to date, the fund would now be in an extremely healthy place.

    What cannot be justified as “charitable” is withdrawing/reducing funding which is only available to disadvantaged individuals, while still supporting luxury services to able-bodied wage earners at the same level. That’s subsidising frivolities for those capable of providing for themselves, at the cost of life-enhancing services for those incapable of helping themselves.

    • Johan Adamson

      • January 20th, 2016 8:57

      I in the past have too said that cuts were necessary, to keep money for a rainy day, but in the debate I had to try to argue that the cuts were uncharitable. I tried to show that what the SCT does is far removed from what we need. I am more and more swayed that we do actually need to spend some of this money (what about fixed links before some of the isles are depopulated?) and that the councillors in the past were not in fact wrong. Jimmy Smith said at the meeting the oil industry gave Shetland £82m, they now have approx £250m (consolidated net assets 31.3.2015). Its not about to run out – they need 3 fund managers to administer it.

  • John Tulloch

    • January 18th, 2016 17:52

    The most important issue facing the Trust now will be the outcome of the promised “independent review” of the structure of its Board of Trustees, in particular, whether proper democratically-accountable control will be established.

  • Michael Garriock

    • January 18th, 2016 18:03

    Yes, Mr Wills, the “serial abuse” shall continue apace as long as folk you allegedly “represent” disagree with you. Such is the lot of “public service”.

    Despite your (apprently somewhat successful) diversionary tactic of shifting focus/blame on to everyone but yourself and your fellow trustees by bringing up the subject of public attendance at SCT meetings (Would anyone be listened to if they did? Those who have alredy tried that route haven’t), and/or standing as a trustee (What chance does anyone have of being approved by the existing clique of trustees unless they’re one of that clique). You may care to bear in mind that out here on the other end of the “serial abuse” are folk who due to physical impairment are incapable travelling as far as the Big Cheese, never mind attend meeting as either an observer or participant, and it is such and similar people that arguably bear the greatest brunt of the negativities perpetuated by the SCT’s behaviour.

    In online and hard copy media is the only real public voice such people have, and a cynic might say that by belittling it as “serial abuse” you are attempting to censor or silence it.

  • iantinkler

    • January 18th, 2016 22:23

    During this debate, Jonathan Wills, spoke eloquently and at length how he personally opposed overspending by the Trust in past years. The overspend was the fault of others, he personally opposed them. Sadly for us all, he never opposed the £7.5 million to Viking Energy. That was his pal, Drew Ratter’s project. Jonathan, you claim the Trust took the best advice, just who from, please enlighten us?

  • Kathy Greaves

    • January 19th, 2016 15:22

    Johan I should mention that I was asked to speak at this debate – for the motion, of course – but was away sooth; by the time I returned home and got the message, the seat was filled. So, do be sure that there are other people who are at very least sceptical of the SCT, their motives, their governance, and would wish to see change. Some years ago I was a member of the Shetland Trust Reform Group, which I think in some way helped to bring about the (partial) changes to the selection of trustees so far.

    Jonathan Wills blusters and pontificates but does not listen to what is said to him, he is so full of his own importance. At the debate on Saturday he stated several times that Ian was (to blame for the delays in VE’s construction) a member of Sustainable Shetland, despite Ian’s denials, and he misquoted me twice on what I had just said, but did not even acknowledge my protests.

    No, against him you will not get a fair and balanced debate; people need to listen carefully, find out facts for themselves and make their own judgements, not be swept along by his more powerful oratory, just because he can should louder.

    • Johan Adamson

      • January 21st, 2016 9:10

      Thank you Kathy

      A lot of the women at the Althing said well done or the like to me to offer some encouragement at the break. That really was gratefully received. Most of the males there reminded me of when we were all at school, they treated you as if you really were not there, and I think JW and the rest of them do not realise how much it actually takes to question them and stand up and be counted. They really should learn to be a bit more magnanimous and develop some empathy if they are going to be counted in the christmas honours list. As for JW not liking the social media comments he gets, he gives it too, I can remember comments to Sandy MacMillan which really belittled him and it just was not fair to treat another human like that. We need to be self-policing on line and not be nasty to anyone.

  • David Spence

    • January 20th, 2016 3:26

    Ian T said ‘ Perhaps, Viking Energy and the Trust should have asked Shetlanders whether they wanted VE or not. ‘

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I am pretty sure Viking Energy did mention ‘ If the people of Shetland were not wanting the Wind Energy Project, then it would not go ahead………or words to this affect?

    Personally, there should be an independent ‘ public inquiry ‘ into how and why SCT managed to get involved in the VEP, and for the people of Shetland to know exactly where the £11 million has gone in regards to expenditure of the VEP (to the nearest £100).

    I would not classify paying people a wage for a business that does not exist as justification for wasting £11 million of Shetland’s money.

  • Kathy Greaves

    • January 21st, 2016 13:37

    David, it was Bill Manson, councillor and Trustee, and Chairman of Viking Energy who said that the project would not go ahead if the people did not want it. It was Allan Wishart, councillor and Trustee (and shortly thereafter well paid Project Co-rdinator of VE) who insisted that it would go ahead. They also said in a brochure that they would assess the views of the community. Are they still assessing the views – if so how can they reach a fair decision if they have not asked us?


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