16th November 2018
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Meeting hears Act of Parliament could result in charitable trust being ‘dissolved’

19 comments, , by , in Headlines, News

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.

Jonathan Wills

Jonathan Wills


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.”

About Ryan Taylor

Ryan Taylor has worked as a reporter since 1995, and has been at The Shetland Times since 2007, covering a wide variety of news topics. Before then he reported for other newspapers in the Highlands, where he was raised, and in Fife, where he began his career with DC Thomson. He also has experience in broadcast journalism with Grampian Television. He has lived in Shetland since 2002, where he harbours an unhealthy interest in old cars and motorbikes.

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19 comments

  1. David Spence

    Does this ‘ free laptop ‘ come with a license to operate Windows as well as additional Microsoft software (Microsoft Office, for example)?

    What about the cost of maintenance/repair of such laptops? Is the SCT also going to pay for this ?

    In todays technology, ipads or even high-end mobile phones would do just as good a job, considering the large percentage of people using such devices via the Internet. Talking of which, is the SCT also going to pay for an ISP (Internet Service Provider) for the laptops, as a means of their full potential ?

    I do not oppose giving people laptops, it is the additional costs involved which could negate giving away of such technological devices?

    Reply
  2. John Tulloch

    While the image of Jonathan ‘diverting the rivers of SIC democracy through the Augean Stables’ isn’t entirely without attraction, it is really a ‘nuclear option’. Welcome, nonetheless, as it informs the trust leadership that their attempt to declare UDI is weakly founded – they can be reeled ashore.

    Drawbacks might include potential distraction and the length of time it will take to bring about an act of parliament. However, it would be interesting to learn more about how this might be implemented.

    The preferred option remains transition to full democratic accountability within the existing arrangement, kicking off with the election of four new trustees, next June.

    Reply
    • Gordon Harmer

      I would beware of the Trojan Horse here John, this could be a way of the Scottish government gaining control of Shetland’s pot of gold. I was immediately suspicious when I saw where this idea came from.

      Reply
  3. Alan Skinner

    I agree entirely that the Trust, or rather the trustees, are behaving extremely foolishly at present. However, I think the last thing we should consider is putting the funds under the control of SIC. In my view, it is imperative that, in Vaila Wishart’s words, there is clear blue sea between the Trust and the Council. The last thing we want is for SCT’s funds to be “grouped” with those of SIC, which is what I suspect happens when anyone in the Scottish Government looks at the needs of Shetland.
    I do not agree with the tone or language of some of Mr Hamilton’s campaign, but it is imperative that we put pressure on the trustees to properly consider a democratic approach. Given the profiles of the appointed trustees, I am astonished that they do not appear to understand the obvious issues, or the seriousness of the issues. There has to be a compromise solution. Shetland Charitable Trust is arguably a unique organisation in the UK, with a significant pool of money for the benefit of Shetland residents. It is frankly shameful that the reputation of the trust has been brought so low.

    Reply
  4. Peter Hamilton

    Agreed John. For me the big news was the support that came from Duncan and Wills, and the others there and who dropped in later, for the proposal worked through by the chairs and Convenor of Shetland’s political parties. Wills and Duncan dropping their 8:7 slim majority of elected trustees over appointees proposal was fantastic. The campaign can now coalesce around the proposal for twelve directly elected trustees with the option of adding advisors or co-opting up to three more trustees if felt helpful.

    I wonder of the trust has a clear proposal it could put forwards ? It certainly seems to be playing for a fully unaccountable trust. When they set off on this path Keith Massey reassured us that there did not need to be local consultation as they were not proposing a “fundamental change”. Does he stand by that position now I wonder? Does anyone disagree there should be local consultation ? When will those who have been sitting back watching stand up and call foul?

    Reply
  5. Gareth Blance

    Really stupid Idea that Shetland Charitable Trust Should be dissolved to something that’s trying to act out that they are more powerful than they really were , The SIC have over the years gained a political stance with the government , Allowing them to be more than a road works business , This Is currently something I’m doing a write up about , There should be at least one to two other types of Council In Shetland . To take down the leadership of the SIC , The SIC have been In over there boots for many years staking there claim , Although the people have rights which are being broken by politics & SIC , For example Shetland Charitable Trusts money may be better held by another separate New Council .

    Reply
  6. Rachel Buchan

    Why would I trust the SIC to disburse charitable monies without prejudice?

    Reply
  7. Alan Skinner

    It seems to me that there are two schools of thought in this discussion 1) the pro-democratic election orientated people, who are concerned about self-perpetuating “cronyism” in the appointed trustee process, and who do not appreciate the skills and experience that the appointed trustees bring to the trust and 2) the pro-appointed trustee group who are worried about the dangers of electing unqualified/inexperienced people to the important role of managing a significant pool of money, which has been essentially bequeathed for the benefit of the people of Shetland.
    it seems to me that we have a group of people who should be able to satisfy both groups. I believe that we have 18 Community Councils. In the main, they consist of elected members, supplemented by co-opted members, who very obviously are trusted by their communities, and have no political ambitions. It seems obvious that we should be able to devise a process whereby 10/11/12 of that group should be able to be elected as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust, perhaps supplemented by 3/4/5 trustees who have special experience and skills that are of essential value to the trust.

    Reply
    • Christopher Johnston

      Alan, please list exactly the “… special experience and skills that are of essential value to the trust.”

      Reply
  8. John Tulloch

    @Alan Skinner,

    What makes you think the “skills and experience” on offer from the appointed trustees are unavailable by election? Witness those of the existing elected group e.g. Jonathan Wills, Allison Duncan and Andrea Manson?

    I have no issue with the skills and experience of the appointed trustees, I am concerned that they should deploy those skills in the best interests of the trust’s beneficiaries and be publicly accountable for doing so.

    Nothing to stop the same appointed trustees or community councillors from standing for election.

    Reply
  9. Peter Hamilton

    Erm, regarding Alan’s two schools, aren’t the only folk in the pro-appointee school trustees?

    Quick reality check: the control of our community funds is being taken away, step by step, with no consent.

    We ain’t been asked, we ain’t said yes.

    This is being done against the will of our elected representatives on the council. They were asked. They said no. Consent has been denied.

    The non-democrats (not a cabal apparently ) were told not to take away control, but are doing it anyway.

    Apparently taking control of Shetland’s funds without permission like this is different from stealing it, but why why why haven’t the non-cabal yet thought to ask first ? Oh no, I remember, they did ask our councillors and were told no. What would you think of your neighbour taking control of your car in similar circumstances; silly or naughty ?

    However community spirited these high-minded and upstanding citizens are, surely they can see their current course of action is nothing short of totally outrageous.

    It is inexcusable. Really it is time somebody said something. Oh wait, the council already did and were ignored.

    This could never happen if we were living in a liberal democracy…

    Reply
  10. Jonathan wills

    No, Pete, I have not dropped my compromise suggestion of a trust with eight elected trustees and seven appointed. I still think it’s the most sensible solution. But my fellow trustees have rejected it and are clearly not going to restore democratic control of the trust fund.
    Therefore we have to think of another way. One possibility is indeed to wind up the trust and give its property back to the council. But that will only work if it can be kept separate from the council’s other funds which come from local and national taxation, as I explained at the meeting.
    If there were new legislation allowing all councils to hold funds for charitable purposes (funds other than council tax, government grants and charges for council services, that is) then there would be no need for a charitable trust. But the legal protection would have to be absolute or the government (of whatever colour) would indeed get its hands on our money.
    And that is the central point, surely? This is the people’s money and, just as a company board of directors requires the sanction of the shareholders, our elected representatives must control our money.
    There may well have to be a petition to parliament and/or a new law to achieve this end but that is not impossible if there is enough public support.
    We can discuss the details later. What we need now is a clear indication that people agree the principle that our representatives should control our money.

    Reply
    • John Tulloch

      Thank you, Jonathan (and Allison) for rebelling against this power grab at SCT.

      The forthcoming Islands Bill presents an early opportunity. Must such a scheme as you suggest be nationwide or could it be included in the Bill?

      Reply
  11. John Tulloch

    Perhaps, the most surprising thing about the campaign is the lack of forthright support from local political parties, only WIr Shetland and the Shetland Conservatives have so far committed themselves to supporting local democracy.

    This is, after all, Shetlanders’ money, and they should have a proper say in how it is used. There is surely no better example of a case for devolving power to the lowest practicable level than this?

    Those parties who purport to support the principle of ‘subsidiarity’ need to step up to the plate. If they fail on this, there seems little point in talking about increased local powers.

    Reply
  12. Andy Holt

    If it’s our money, let’s just divvy it up. Total money invested, say £200,000,000, divided by total population say 20,000. I make it about £10,000 each. Then we can invest it or spend it as we please, because it’s our money and we’re responsible adults, right?

    Reply
  13. Andrew Holt

    John Tulloch is right, decisions on how our money is administered and spent should be devolved to the lowest level practicable. Hence my suggestion, share it out. Some folk will spend, some will save, some will invest. A trust exists in order to benefit those for whom it was set up. Why continue to patronise the people of Shetland, treating them as if they were children, unable to ever reach the age of majority and make their own financial decisions? Elected councillor trustees or appointed lay persons are in fact no more capable of deciding these things than joe public. The evidence over the years has sometimes indicated that on achieving a measure of local power some of our movers and shakers have too readily kissed their judgement and our money goodbye!

    Reply
  14. Peter Hamilton

    Mr. Massey, chair of SCT’s audit and governance advisory committee, wrote on the day after the Trust’s May 12th meeting that OSCR will go on to invite public comment and that trustees took the view that this was “more appropriate” than the trust carrying out local consultation “especially given that no fundamental changes were being proposed”. Who doesn’t agree with Jonathan Wills that there has been a “material change of circumstances” now the council has rejected SCT’s proposal to supply councillor-trustees in future? The end of accountability is a pretty fundamental change. We can only hope local political parties are realising the trust should be asked by them to consult locally before putting its proposal to OSCR and that they can alert OSCR to the need for the trust to consult all beneficiaries or “the inhabitants of Shetland” as they are identified in the trust deed. It may take time for them to take a view but it is only taking a view on the desirability for local consultation on a contentious issue. OSCR legally won’t stop the trust doing what it is entitled to do unless there is a concerted and coordinated effort to stop SCT politically here.

    Reply
  15. Peter Hamilton

    I see Bobby Hunter quoted in today’s paper saying “we have to wait until the new council comes in and see what they decide”. This means waiting until there are no more councillor-trustees as they have to step down once the new council is in place. For the avoidance of doubt the trust is no more obliged to heed the position of our elected councillors next June than it was this June when our elected representatives on the council called for an elected majority of trustees. Happily nothing prevents the trust from using this winter to consult the beneficiaries (inhabitants of Shetland) so that there is a plan B available in June when the next council (remembering the insult delivered to this one) again tells the trust to make itself accountable. The trust can and should act responsibly to find out the views of its beneficiaries on the futures governance of their trust. In doing so they would improve their reputation.

    Reply
  16. Peter Hamilton

    I see Bobby Hunter quoted in today’s paper saying “we have to wait until the new council comes in and see what they decide”. Not so. This means waiting until there are no more councillor-trustees as they have to step down once the new council is in place. For the avoidance of doubt the trust is no more obliged to heed the position of our elected councillors next June than it was this June when our elected representatives on the council called for an elected majority of trustees. Happily nothing prevents the trust from using this winter to consult the beneficiaries (inhabitants of Shetland) so that there is a plan B available in June when the next council (remembering the insult delivered to this one) again tells the trust to make itself accountable. The trust can and should act responsibly to find out the views of its beneficiaries on the future governance of their trust. In doing so trustees would improve the reputation of the trust. OSCR did say the trust should take into account the “views of its beneficiaries and its reputation”.

    Reply

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