Trust says a firm no to democracy with reorganisation

Shetland Charitable Trust is to press ahead with a reorganisation that will see the number of councillor trustees reduced to four and “threatens the end of any democratic participation in the trust”.

The decision, taken at a stormy trust meeting yesterday, was in spite of warnings that the meeting was the last chance to preserve any democratic control over the trust’s £224 million investments.

With four trustees absent from what was dubbed “possibly the most important meeting” the organisation ever had, trustees voted eight to two to put their plan to Shetland Islands Council, whose appointment of four councillor-trustees will be sought.

Jonathan Wills
Jonathan Wills

But vice-chairman Jonathan Wills said the decision was unworkable as it would not get the backing of the SIC and that adopting the “turkey” of a proposal threatened to bring the trust into disrepute. The entire trust, if there is no council participation, could end up consisting of appointees.

Dr Wills said: “In moving the amendment I was trying to save the trust from the very serious and public embarrassment of passing a resolution which, as it stands, cannot possibly be implemented in full and would certainly have to be changed before being accepted by OSCR – even if trustees did choose to ignore public opinion.”

But backers of the move argued strongly against “politicisation” of the trust which they saw as the inevitable outcome of putting its board of trustees up for election.

In a bizarre turn of events, trustees effectively ended up debating an amendment that Dr Wills was barred from formally tabling.

Dr Wills was critical of the trust for its secretive dealings on an issue that had no need for confidentiality, and said his attempts to campaign for a democratically elected majority on the council had been “blocked at every turn”.

Although the trust’s governance committee chairman Keith Massey said the change was part of an ongoing governance review, Dr Wills said the chances of the trust ever going back to a more democratic form would be like “turkeys voting for Christmas”.

A furious Allison Duncan also called for the resignation of chairman Bobby Hunter because of his attempts to muzzle the “naughty boys” – Duncan and Wills – prior to the meeting.

Allison Duncan
Allison Duncan

Mr Duncan threatened to go public with the contents of a “disgraceful” letter threatening to remove the pair, who “went public” on the issue and said the way the trust operated amounted to a “dictatorship”.

He told the meeting: “If he thinks he’s going to shut me up, he has another think coming. I’m my own man … you will not shut me up. This trust should be an elected process, not a selected cabal.”

Mr Duncan then moved on to the trust’s attempt to funnel all its communication through the chairman “because they are frightened” of what he might say.

“That’s nothing short of a dictatorship as far as I am concerned,” Mr Duncan added. “The people of Shetland are not damned fools. They will tell us at the ballot box whether they want us or not.”

Dr Wills was also annoyed that Mr Hunter had suggested he set aside his own personal interests for that of the trust.

“I have no personal interest here whatsoever. By advocating that there no longer be any councillor trustees, I am actually trying to talk myself and my councillor colleagues out of a job, albeit an unpaid one,” he added.

Following the meeting Mr Hunter said he would not be stepping down and Mr Duncan’s “dictatorship” claim was without explanation. “That was a spat between me and Allison”.

He said: “I think the trust took the right direction today. I took no part in the debate as I was chairman, but I voted for it as the right thing to do.

“Trusts have to do the right thing in terms of the governing organisation OSCR and I genuinely believe that’s what we have done.”

During the debate Dr Wills emphasised he had no problem with the selected trustees, who had made a “valuable contribution”.

He said: “My concern is with the longer-term future of the trust if there is to be little or no democratic link to the inhabitants of the Shetland Islands; and what might happen if we end up with an organisation which becomes self-selecting in perpetuity; where the public’s involvement decays into mere consultation which, as we know, can often become a charade, better described as notification.”

Dr Wills, in imperious form, took trustees to task for their “caricature” of his amendment and the personal nature of the “attack” by Drew Ratter who had also offered a “character assassination” of Peter Hamilton. At one point he tossed pages of his text at Mr Ratter and trustee Jimmy Smith, challenging them to read his proposal.

He also chided Mr Ratter to stop playing with his iPhone and iPad at a public meeting.

Dr Wills also criticised the trust for failing to consult the SIC on its proposal before getting to decision stage as “incompetent”.

Appointed trustee Peter Malcolmson, a former councillor, said it was important to realise that what was proposed was part of a process and there would be another review in three years.

He said that the trust had been right to conduct its business in private but the time had now come for the proposal to be aired publicly.

Mr Malcolmson added: “Shetland Charitable Trust is not a public body. This is a point in law and in the law we are not accountable to the SIC or to the public in general. We are accountable to the office of the Scottish charity regulator.”

Bobby Hunter
Bobby Hunter

Mr Ratter said that the proposal would have to clear the demands of OSCR and the public would be able to make their views known to OSCR.

The charitable trust, he said, was governed by fairly mechanical rules and laws and that had worked well since it became an independent trust.

Nor was Mr Ratter keen on people campaigning for election to the trust as it had serious responsibilities and could not just overturn its work of previous years.

Councillor trustee Amanda Westlake said that she was “very impressed” with the proposal and that since joining the trust she had “witnessed nothing other than the honest willingness from every trustee to do their best for the people of Shetland”.

Ms Westlake also said Dr Wills was wrong to make the assumption that every councillor would reject a position on the trust out of hand.

Following the debate Mr Hamilton, the acting convener of pressure group Democracy For Shetland’s Charitable Trust, attempted to step into the fray, but was unanimously shouted down by trustees.

Mr Hamilton had called for direct civil action prior to the meeting, but seemed to have brought no followers with him.

Despite the impassioned and articulate arguments of the opponents, the trust voted in favour of the report by eight to two.

Backing the governance committee report were Mr Massey, Mr Smith, Robert Henderson, Ms Westlake, Mr Ratter, Mr Malcolmson, Tom MacIntyre and Mr Hunter.

Dr Wills’ amendment was for eight trustees to be publicly elected, with the trust to have a veto over these candidates, with the other seven selected. Mr Duncan said this plan for a wholly elected trust was what “the Shetland public want”.

Trustees Ian Napier, Malcolm Bell, Andrew Cooper and Andrea Manson were not in attendance at the meeting.


Add Your Comment
  • Alan Skinner

    • May 12th, 2016 17:47

    It is quite astonishing that Shetland Charitable Trust has managed to get itself into this ridiculous pickle, where its trustees are vilified and the trust politicised. However, the good news is that it is not too late to be saved. I would like to make a few suggestions to the next group of trustees, whether elected/appointed or whatever solution is agreed with OSCR. Incidentally, on that topic, I looked at the bios of the trustees on the SCT website, and if I had not known a couple of them, I would have found it impossible to detect who was elected and who was appointed i.e. they all looked like well-intentioned people, with the best interests of Shetland at heart. However, it should be noted that none of the appointed trustees appeared to have special skills that would have led to their appointment. This is one of the fundamental flaws in a process where a quango appoints people as trustees. They do tend to favour people who have very similar backgrounds to their own. This is why every quango in Britain looks alike. If fifteen is the magic number, I would prefer to have 100% elected, but if that is not acceptable to OSCR, I would settle for eleven elected, and four appointed, but only if they have demonstrable skills and experience that are essential to SCT.
    I vividly remember being part of the Noble Grossart team that gave input to Ian Clark in the mid 70s, about how to invest the new found riches. It was quite clear then that the money was to be invested in the markets, for the benefit of the people of Shetland.
    The first problem that the current trustees have, and I will not speculate about the history of investment decisions, is that they have ended up with non-market, private equity type, investments in SLAP, SHEAP, Viking and Sullum Voe. These have, without exception, created conflicts of interest. In my view, they should all be sold or wound up. SCT’s investment policy, and investment process, should be extremely simple. They have excellent advisers who will help with investment objective, asset allocation to achieve that objective, and manager selection. If markets prove difficult, the people of Shetland will completely understand that less will be available to spend on local causes. The investment process should be so straightforward that you don’t need 15 market experts to have a rock-solid process.
    The primary role of the trustees, in my view, is the allocation of income to the many essential good causes in Shetland, and their primary responsibility should be to listen to the people of Shetland to understand their wishes in terms of that allocation. They should not have vested interests, should not have any conflict of interest, should not sit on other boards and, very importantly, should not be councillors. It is very dangerous to have any possible suggestion that SCT is a subsidiary of, or in any way connected to, SIC. I strongly suspect that members of the Scottish government mentally include SCT’s funds when they make any decision about Shetland.
    I cannot imagine that OSCR would have any problem with what I am proposing. A very senior OSCR member has complained about the arrogance of SCT in the past. I sincerely hope that the future is about modesty, openness and completely understandable policy. I also sincerely believe that the people of Shetland are perfectly capable of electing the right people to achieve that future.

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 13th, 2016 9:32

    The sad part of this is that no one seems to care. Only 2 voted for the amendment and no one showed up to challenge this. Apathy or not wanting to ruffle any feathers? I am most shocked that this is not a public body and whose Trustees are silenced: What are they afraid of? So we have lost control of the oil money all together now. It is in the hands of well intentioned Trustees with very little experience of running such a Trust and who will only add to the dysfunction of the Trust.

  • John Tulloch

    • May 13th, 2016 11:03

    I agree with the bulk of your comment, Johan, however Mr Massey has stated to the media:

    “….charity law in this country…now proscribes conflicts of interest, whether those of a councillor who sits on the trust or an appointed trustee who may be seen to represent a group or any other vested interest.”

    Then why have any councillor trustees at all. That’s what Dr Wills proposed?

    And isn’t that a bit rit rich, coming from the man who is driving this change while sitting as a NHS Shetland Board member, on the payroll of the Scottish government?

  • Suzy V Jolly

    • May 13th, 2016 14:57

    Perhaps Mr Hunter can explain why he didn’t follow the Administrative Regulations of the Trust, in particular:-

    “4.2.3 Unless otherwise specified herein, all questions coming or arising before the
    Trust shall be decided by a majority of the Trustees present and voting
    thereon at a meeting of the Trust.”

    And also from Appendix A:-

    I recognise that as a Trustee it is mandatory to attend all appropriate
    meetings and other appointments of the Trust or give apologies.
    I will prepare fully for all meetings and work for the Trust. This will include
    reading papers, querying anything I do not understand, thinking through
    issues before meetings and completing any tasks assigned to me in the
    agreed time.
    I will actively engage in discussion, debate and voting in meetings;
    contributing in a considered and constructive way, listening carefully,
    challenging sensitively and avoiding conflict.
    I will participate in collective decision making, accept a majority decision of
    the Board of Trustees and will not act individually unless specifically
    authorised to do so.
    Where I am a member of a committee or sub-group, I will take all
    reasonable steps to ensure that other Trustees are kept fully up-to-date with
    information upon which decisions may be taken.
    I will take joint responsibility for decisions taken, including those determined
    by a nominated committee and sub- groups and recognise that I am
    accountable to stakeholders. I will submit to whatever scrutiny is

    So why, Mr Hunter, did you not permit a vote to be taken on Wills’ amendment? You further state that you didn’t debate since you were Chair; however, you are still a Trustee, aren’t you?

    All those who voted in favour of this should resign immediately, you’re not fit to hold office.

  • Peter Hamilton

    • May 14th, 2016 7:59

    Alan Skinner should not be astonished. SCT is deliberately exploring a dead end to ensure that the establishment can retain control for as long as possible. They talked about skill set and improving the age and gender profile. Bobby could even see that somewhere down the line they might ask OSCR for permission to trial bringing Shetland’s two Youth MSPs onboard, as if that alone would solve the democratic deficit. Other proposals have been made which they know can’t ever be allowed to show what good sorts they are.

    What they didn’t address is the largely middle class nature of the trustees and who benefits most from their current pattern of expenditure. No mention was made of bringing in the expertise of those with lived experience of living in poverty or at the margins of Shetland society. They will talk about that too in the future, anything to seem concerned so that they can appear reasonable and waste further time. The establishment has captured SCT and dominates the thinking of the appointees it selects. This and their willful heel dragging are two of the reasons why a clean sweep is needed.


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