Shetland Charitable Trust could be dissolved if pressure is brought on the Scottish parliament to allow the SIC to hold money, separate from the normal council funds, for charitable purposes.
Jonathan Wills brought the idea to today’s drop-in listening exercise being staged by campaign group Democracy for Shetland Charitable Trust.
Dr Wills, who serves as the trust’s vice chairman, suggested to a collection of around a dozen people who had gathered at Islesburgh Community Centre that the trust’s funds could be handed over to the council and then dispersed only for charitable purposes.
He said the idea, which had been put to him by Danus Skene before he died, meant all was “not lost” if the trust “foolishly persists” on its current course.
His comments came after the trust last week voted six-two in favour of cutting the number of elected trustees from seven to four, despite the SIC already having decided it would not put forward any councillors as trustees to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
Dr Wills insisted the reserve fund was already “entirely within” the democratically elected control of Shetland Islands Council.
He said the founding fathers of the charitable trust would “never have imagined in their wildest dreams, or nightmares”, that the trust would end up being controlled by an unelected majority.
“[Danus Skene] asked me, ‘what will we do if the trust persists in going down this route and ends up with 11 trustees all self-appointed?'” said Dr Wills.
He said Mr Skene had suggested petitioning for an Act of Parliament at Holyrood which would allow local authorities to hold, in trust, funds not raised by taxation or by the normal commercial activity of the council.
“I was a bit taken aback by that,” Dr Wills added. “I said, ‘why are you mentioning that?’
“He said, ‘well, then we don’t need a trust. [We could] dissolve the trust.’
“If it persists in doing this, the answer, he suggested, was to dissolve the trust and make its funds over to the council to hold in trust for charitable purposes only. It would solve all the problems.
“I put it forward solely as an idea we ought to discuss. And also to emphasise that all is not lost if this trust foolishly persists in the course it’s on.
All is not lost if this trust foolishly persists in the course it’s on – JONATHAN WILLS
“There may be many more things to do and this may just be the start of its first battle.”
Campaign group member Peter Hamilton said he was “very interested” in discussing the option further, although he raised fears over “checks and balances” – despite Dr Wills insisting checks and balances existed in the form of elections.
Mr Hamilton wanted the trust to show more innovation in sharing out its funds, calling for laptops to be given to school children on free school meals.
“I think the idea of just putting the fund monies back into the hands of the council, whilst that does solve one of the democratic deficits, it doesn’t provide a check and balance on an over-powerful council,” he said.
“If you have a separate organisation you have a dialogue. You have a separate organisation whose sole responsibility is to be there to think about the extra, clever stuff.”
He cited a woman from the Western Isles who had spoken to him and insisted Shetland was losing its capacity to innovate.
“These funds should be free to do wonderful things. They do some wonderful things. But, put yourself into the shoes of a mother on a low income with three bairns. Can you afford to take them swimming?
“It’s great we have the Clickimin Centre there. It’s great we have other swimming pools. But maybe there’s more that can be done.
“We want to have a fair society here, and there needs to be a democratic discussion about the purposes of these funds.
We want to have a fair society here, and there needs to be a democratic discussion about the purposes of these funds – Peter Hamilton
Mr Hamilton drew on the conclusions of the recent Tackling Inequalities Commission.
He said money could easily be made available for 416 £200 laptop computers, which he insisted would be “more than enough” for every child on free school meals in S3 and S4.
“Maybe it’s time we innovated a wee bit. Maybe it’s time we tried a little project and see how it helps.”