Shetland Charitable Trust has voted overwhelmingly to ratify its planned reorganisation which threatens to place almost half Shetland’s oil fund out of democratic control.
Trustees voted by nine to two on Thursday evening to “homologate” the proposal earlier approved by the charities regulator Oscr.
A statement attributed to chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust Bobby Hunter said afterwards: “I’m pleased that the Trust has resolved to implement the new governance arrangements that were voted for by a decisive majority of Trustees on 12th May last year following the clear approval of OSCR.
“We can now move ahead with these changes which the charity regulator acknowledges will improve the administration of the Trust.”
The changes allow for up to four councillor trustees and 11 appointed trustees. Modifications have also been made to the trust’s charitable objects to bring them into line with charity law.
But councillor trustee Allison Duncan who moved to reject the changes said that the original founders of the trust would be “spinning in their graves” if they knew what was happening, a sentiment later echoed by Jonathan Wills who resigned from the trust six weeks ago.
The trust’s new organisation leaves just four spaces for appointees from Shetland Islands Council, with the rest of the trustees being selected.
Mr Duncan said such an arrangement would amount to a “rump” of councillors who would be disbarred from the trust’s decision making whenever there was a conflict of interest.
If the new council opts not to be appoint any councillors to the trust, it will mean the entire £230 million fund is administered by a “selectocracy”.
Mr Duncan read out a list of nine bullet points stating it was a “sad day for democracy in these islands” and that almost half of Shetland’s oil funds would be outwith democratic control.
Clearly incensed by the turn of events, Mr Duncan said that “the people themselves had made their views clear” and wanted a majority of trustees to be elected. The “unprecedented numbers” who had replied to Oscr’s consultation had supported this. The council and association of community council’s had agreed unanimously on the need for democratic control.
You appointed trustees seem to be the odd ones out here. And I am sorry to tell you that your reputation among the people is currently very low, despite all the good works the trust does in our community.
He also asked how much the review had cost from its inception, including legal fees. Mr Hunter agreed to provide him with this information at a later date.
But Mr Duncan did acknowledge that the Trust’s new constitution gives it the power to make future changes in a much simpler manner – including restoring democratic control.
However his move to reject only won the backing of Andrea Manson.
Councillor trustee Drew Ratter moved to accept the recommendations and was seconded by Jimmy Smith and voted for by the rest of the trustees apart from Malcolm Bell and Tom MacIntyre, neither of whom were at the meeting.
Chairman of the trust’s governance committee Keith Massey said that every trustee had been fully involved in the lengthy discussions that had led up to the reformation and he had never expressed any view on election and selection and that the whole process had been fair and equitable.
The views of others had been listened to and the review voted for by the majority of trustees.
He made the familiar argument that the trust was publicly accountable through Oscr and that there was no-one on the trust who did not have the best wishes of the people of Shetland at heart.
He asked Mr Duncan if he really wanted to start with a clean slate again and challenged him over how much more that would cost.
Mr Massey said that much angst had been expressed during the process and condemned the “attacks” that trustees had had to bear at a personal level in the community.
He also paid tribute to the “amount of work” by trustees and officers that had gone into supporting the changes.
Trustee Dr Andrew Cooper commented that Oscr had noted how unusually “open and transparent” the charitable trust was compared with virtually any other trust.
Councillor trustee Amanda Westlake said that the process had been “honest, fair and open” as far as she was concerned and that Oscr’s move to split the trust from Shetland Islands Council had been in response to “public outcry”.
Councillor trustee Ms Manson said that the trust could not be democratic if it had no public accountability and no election of trustees.
But Mr Duncan said that the trust was still not heeding the will of the people of Shetland whose oil money it is in charge of. “They made it absolutely clear that they wanted election not selection.”
Following the meeting Dr Wills said that the trustees had gone “completely against the wishes of the people of Shetland” and likened them to a herd of musk oxen forming a defensive circle.
He said that the intentions of the original trustees, which he was very well aware of having been closely involved as a reporter and a political candidate at the time, were “betrayed” by the trust’s decision.
He added that comparisons with other trusts were false.“This not like other trusts. It is a unique trust set up with a gift of private money to the council to be looked after for the people of Shetland in perpetuity and what they have just done is a breach of that trust.”
Dr Wills vowed to keep campaigning for democracy on the trust as a private citizen, having resigned as he would not be standing for the council again.
He previously resigned from the trust in 2011 in protest to changes that removed the council majority on the trust.
This is not over, It is very far from over, and the people of Shetland will not tolerate this,” he said.
This is not a personal attack on any of the trustees. No-one questions their bona-fides, their public spirit, their desire to use the trust funds for the people of Shetland. That is not what the argument is about. The argument is about the public control of nearly half of Shetland’s oil money, and that was never intended to pass out of public control.”