A new pressure group, Democracy For Shetland’s Charitable Trust, has been formed to prevent what organisers describe as the “politically motivated theft of control of Shetland’s Charitable Trust”.
It is calling on “responsible citizens” to take “lawful direct action to prevent the theft from going ahead” by mustering prior to the charitable trust’s meeting at Islesburgh Community Centre on Thursday. The meeting will consider a proposal to reduce the number of councillor trustees to four.
The group claims “a healthy, vocal and determined turnout is crucial for Shetland’s future” and it calls on vice-chairman of the trust Jonathan Wills to be allowed to present his case for a majority of elected trustees.
It is also calling for full public consultation before reforms to the trust are implemented.
Interim convener of the group, Peter Hamilton, said: “It is essential that responsible citizens gather and be prepared to disrupt the meeting if it appears the small unrepresentative and politically-motivated cabal who want to steal control of the trust are intent on doing so.
“The issue at stake here is the control of a rich organisation which, in the people’s hands, could secure a better future for everybody in Shetland, and particularly those at the margins, living in poverty and without a voice, who have been neglected by this politically manipulated underperforming charity for so long.
“What we need is nice and simple a directly elected trust, with no appointees. The SIC need to give the same legal advice as other councils gave years back, that councillors should step back off trusts.”
He described any attempt to prevent direct elections to the trust as “daylight robbery”.
Mr Hamilton also argued that it was essential that Dr Wills be given the opportunity to put forward his case adding, “we want to hear what he has to say”.
“Thereafter the meeting should talk about one matter, and one matter only – how they will improve their consultation process,” said Mr Hamilton. “No decision on the future organisation of Shetland’s Charitable Trust can be allowed on Thursday. It is time to unite and stop the theft.”
There must be no decision on the future of Shetland’s charitable trust until there is a full and open consultation. PETER HAMILTON
Mr Hamilton added that if attempts to stop Dr Wills from speaking were successfully made and a decision was made without public consultation, “Shetlanders will lose their only chance to get control of what should be Shetland’s charitable trust.”
He added: “There must be no decision on the future of Shetland’s charitable trust until there is a full and open consultation. We want what Shetland’s community councillors want, it is what Shetland’s political parties want and this is what the leadership of the SIC also want – no decision without public involvement.”
The SCT meanwhile issued a press release emphasising that no decision had yet been taken on the proposals and that trustees were “free” to accept or reject them.
The trust has previously said that Dr Wills would not be allowed to table his amendment. Instead, trustees will have the option of asking officers to reconsider the proposals and bring alternative recommendations to a future trustee meeting.
Changes to the make-up of the trust must be approved by the charities regulator OSCR and as part of this process members of the public will be invited to make representations to OSCR.
SCT audit committee chairman Keith Massey said: “It’s time to counter the misunderstanding that trustees are somehow being railroaded into pushing through a particular set of recommendations.
“The trust’s structure was substantially reformed in 2012. It was agreed at that time that an independent assessment of how these governance arrangements were working in practice would be carried out within three years.
“The recommendations that will come before us at our meeting are the culmination of an extensive period of interviews, discussion and reporting that began in August last year.”
This included the appointment of the Institute of Directors (Scotland) to undertake the review following a tendering exercise. Trustees, officers and representatives of stakeholder organisations have been “closely involved” in the development of the proposals, Mr Massey said.
He added: “The majority of trustees have been engaged and constructive in this process but if they still feel their views are not represented within the report, they reserve the right to argue their own case at the trust meeting.”
Among the recommendations to be discussed on Thursday will be:
• A reduction in the number of councillor-trustees from seven to four of a total of 15;
• Continuing the process whereby an expert selection panel chooses all appointed trustees.
If trustees support the recommendations, a formal consultation will be held with Shetland Islands Council on the number of councillor trustees and the terms of the review.
Dr Wills’ amendment proposes eight trustees to be publicly elected and seven appointed trustees, selected by existing methods. He has also called for a full public consultation prior to any constitutional changes being made.