The Shetland Times is today launching a new campaign calling on Shetland Charitable Trust to reconsider its contentious plans to reduce the number of councillor trustees from seven to four.
The Trust Democracy campaign also urges readers to take part in a consultation process being run by the charity regulator.
It comes after the charity regulator, Oscr, confirmed in a letter to trust vice chairman, Jonathan Wills, that it would gather the views of interested parties.
That follows a letter sent before Christmas by Dr Wills to the charity regulator’s chief executive, David Robb, amid concerns control over Shetland’s oil millions was being taken out of democratic control.
A letter sent back to Dr Wills, from official Martin Tyson, states: “We will of course consider SCT’s reorganisation application as required under the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005.
“A summary of the reorganisation scheme will be published shortly to allow for representations by interested parties and we will fully consider these before deciding whether or not to approve the reorganisation.”
In his letter last month Dr Wills complained 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 directly elected trustees.
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.
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Dr Wills has consistently opposed what he calls 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.
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. JONATHAN WILLS
Dr Wills appealed to the Shetland public to take this “last chance” to protest at the removal of democratic influence over the trust, something which is echoed by this newspaper’s demand.
“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.”
Isles MSP Tavish Scott supported the stance taken by Dr Wills, and insisted the trust would be “back to square one” if the changes did not meet with Oscr’s approval.
“I’ve always taken the view that Shetland Islands Council elected members have a role to play on the charitable trust. There should be a logical connection between our council and the charitable trust. I think that’s the democratic way in which the charitable trust should stay in tune with the work the council does in lots of areas of policy.”
He added it was the current council which had agreed not to put forward any of its members for inclusion on the trust, and that a different picture may emerge after this year’s local elections have taken place.
“It’ll be up to the new council what they want to do on this, but if you argue about democracy, I think it’s a bit like the House of Lords and the House of Commons – as soon as you add another democratic structure in a place as small as Shetland, I’m not quite sure who has democratic supremacy, and that’s my worry.”
He said there remained a “very strong logic” for some of the council’s members also being on the trust.
“I quite understand the worries over conflict of interest, but I don’t think they override the importance of the very strong links that need to exist between the council and the charitable trust.”
The consultation has not met with unanimous approval, however.
Councillor trustee, Drew Ratter, has previously voiced his support for the proposed changes. He reiterated his view that maintaining, or increasing, the present number of councillor trustees would not lead to a better trust.
“The trust is a body governed by trust law in Scotland, which is the Trustees Investment Act – which I believe was enacted in 2006 – and that’s what sets the rules for Scottish trusts, of which the charitable trust is one.
“The trust is supposed to make an effort to find trustees with the appropriate skills to benefit the trust body.
“If somebody could demonstrate the best way to get able, properly motivated trustees was to elect them, I suppose I might support it – but there’s never been any sign of that.”
In a statement, trust chairman Bobby Hunter sought to address Dr Wills’ concerns that the names of trustees from 2012 were named on the document. He said he wished to clarify the method by which the reform of the trust’s governance structure will take place.
“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,” he said.
“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 constitution’, as has been suggested.”
You can also add your name to those supporting this newspaper’s Trust Democracy campaign by completing the online form included above, or by printing and signing the letter available above or at the following link – Trust-Democracy-OSCR-letter
Return completed coupons to the Trust Democracy Campaign, The Shetland Times, Gremista, Lerwick, ZE1 0PX and The Shetland Times will pass them on to Oscr.