A campaign group seeking wholesale reform of the charitable trust says that people now view the trust with suspicion and a sense of alienation, according to the results of a survey undertaken by the group.
Democracy for Shetland’s Charitable Trust (D4SCT) is seeking to overthrow the trust’s own plans to reduce the number of councillor trustees on its board to four, and instead is campaigning for a directly elected trust.
D4SCT interim convener Peter Hamilton also called for the resignation of SCT chairman Bobby Hunter who was responsible for “this interlocked pattern of pitiful engagement and insulting high-handedness” and said the questionnaire had proven there was wide spread public mistrust of the organisation which has been blamed for a host of other shortcomings.
Mr Hamilton, who has a masters qualification in social science research, said that the small sample of 28 respondents who were questioned at the Market Cross in Lerwick, plus four who had been randomly selected and questioned over the phone, showed a “pattern of reaction to the trust” that went “beyond disquiet and towards suspicion and alienation”.
He adds in a summary to the results of the questionnaire: “It seems self-evident that Shetland Charitable Trust in its current form, or in the new form it seeks, is no longer fit for purpose.”
Just over half of the people questioned (52 per cent) want the trust board to be directly democratically elected, while just under a quarter (24 per cent) supported a plan championed by trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills for a mix of appointed and elected trustees. There was little support (nine per cent) for the plan the trust is rolling with for a mix of councillor and appointed trustees.
Other findings of Mr Hamilton’s survey were that the public was apathetic about the trust, felt insulted by its ignorance of public opinion, or that their views would not be listened to even if an approach was made to the trust.
There was also a sizeable objection to the trust spending money to back the Viking Energy Wind Farm.
There was strong support (21/32 valid responses) for the trust redistributing money to the poor and disadvantaged, charities and the voluntary sector, while 30 of 33 supported conditions being put on the money granted to the Shetland trusts. Only three of 33 were satisfied with the current balance of spending.
“The strength of responses vindicates D4SCT’s position that there is an imbalance of SCT expenditure towards those with a disposable income,” says Mr Hamilton’s report.
Mr Hamilton said that it was an invaluable questionnaire that resolved many of the issues of perception around the trust that were lacking clarity. It indicated the public felt excluded from the trust, which was developing into a club picked by its own power-brokers, who had no grasp of reality and little understanding of the poorer elements of society it was there to help.
Mr Hamilton outlines the methodological robustness of his survey in a “statement of research validity” and acknowledges where the results might be skewed.
The research methodology employed is known as “action research”, which is used, according to Mr Hamilton, to give voice to the disempowered. It does not intend to measure the status quo, but aims instead to change it.
Commenting on the survey, the chairman of SCT’s Audit and Governance Advisory Committee Keith Massey said: “Trustees have opted to continue with a slightly changed mix of councillor-trustees and appointed trustees, and we are now beginning to assess how this will work in practice.
“Trustees are all members of the community in Shetland and are happy to listen to and consider a range of views.”
• Charitable trust reform pressure group Democracy for Shetland’s Charitable Trust has launched a petition and website to “make sure” control of the trust is returned to the people of Shetland.
The petition says: “We, the inhabitants of Shetland, hereby demand full democratic control over Shetland Charitable Trust through direct elections.
It can be viewed online at
or accessed via the campaign website at http://www.democracy4sct.com/
D4SCT interim convenor Peter Hamilton said: “Our current Trustees seem hellbent on keeping control in the hands of the few for as long as they can. Otherwise why would they be putting forwards such an anti democratic plan without properly consulting the people of Shetland? Did they hope we wouldn’t notice? They have shown themselves to be untrustworthy and have plainly had their day. The experiment with appointees has failed. Those in control of the trust have run rings round them.
“Direct elections for all trustees immediately, no cronies, no appointees and no councillors with conflicts of interest, is the only way to make sure our money is properly invested and properly spent.
“We therefore encourage everyone who cares about Shetland to get behind this campaign fast, and sign our petition online and find out more and contact is through our website. it only takes two minutes, and encourage your friends, neighbours and workmates to do likewise. This is our one chance to stop Shetland’s Charitable Trust from being taken out of our hands forever. There is no time to waste.”