The charity regulator will carry out consultation before approving proposed changes to Shetland Charitable Trust.
In a letter to the trust’s vice-chairman, Jonathan Wills, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), has confirmed that it will shortly publish a “summary” of the trust’s proposed reorganisation “to allow for representations by interested parties” and will “fully consider” these “before deciding whether or not to approve the reorganisation”.
Dr Wills wrote to OSCR last month to complain that the public, and most trustees, had not seen the text of the draft trust deed before it went to OSCR’s Dundee headquarters. Nor, he said, had the trust consulted all the beneficiaries about its refusal to accept trustees who are directly elected to the trust.
He also pointed out that the draft deed appeared to be inaccurate, in that it listed the 2012 trustees rather than the current trustees, and inconsistent because it provided for Shetland Islands Council to nominate four councillor trustees under the new regime, whereas the council decided in June last year that it did not wish to have any. Instead, the council declared itself in favour of a directly-elected majority on the trust’s board.
Dr Wills has consistently opposed “the dilution of democratic control” at the trust. Last month he was one of three SIC councillors who declared they would not sign the proposed new trust deed, nor allow his name to appear on it, if it included a majority of non-elected trustees on the board.
Dr Wills appealed to the Shetland public to take this “last chance” to protest at the removal of democratic influence over the trust.
“Some people want all trustees to be elected and I sympathise with that. What I’ve suggested is a compromise, with eight of the 15 trustees being directly elected and the other seven selected. If enough citizens write to OSCR objecting to the undemocratic course this unelected majority on the trust is taking, then there’s a chance that OSCR will ask them to think again. If everyone just mutely accepts the loss of democratic control over almost half of Shetland’s oil money, then that’s the legacy they’ll leave to future generations of islanders. I’ve done my best to stop this but so far I’ve got nowhere. Now it’s up to the people of Shetland.”
OSCR has meanwhile refused to intervene in the dispute over a “take it or leave it” ruling by trust chairman Bobby Hunter that trustees cannot amend proposals from the trust administration at their meetings, but must either accept or reject recommendations in their entirety.
OSCR official Martin Tyson told Dr Wills he saw “no role” for the regulator in this matter.
Dr Wills said: “I find this very surprising. I’d always assumed that the role of a regulator was to regulate. But it seems OSCR is unconcerned that trust meetings are currently being conducted in a manner that effectively reduces trustees’ control of the trust, due to a wilful misinterpretation of the administrative regulations, based upon an erroneous legal opinion.
“Nor, apparently, does it matter to OSCR that recruitment of future trustees is likely to be undermined by this arbitrary and capricious conduct.”
The charitable trust has issued a “clarification” in response to Dr Wills’ statement about the apparent inaccuracies in the trust deed.
Referring to the reform of the governance structure, trust chairman Bobby Hunter said: “We have been advised by our lawyers that there is no need for an entirely new Deed of Trust to be drawn up, and instead trustees will vote on a resolution to amend the 2012 Deed.
“The names on the 2012 Deed are there by virtue of their being trustees at the time. It is very clear that they are not current trustees, and equally clear that those named individuals will not be ‘applying to change the Trust’s consitution’, as has been suggested.”