Changes are already under way

I am responding on behalf of trustees at Shetland Amenity Trust to the comments that have been made in your letters columns about the current position at the trust.

I should say at the outset that trustees are well aware of the kinds of concern that your correspondents have raised and they are addressing them. As Robina Barton's letter recognises ('Staff must not be made scapegoats for the failings of others'; SN, 01/10/2017), there are two separate issues here, finance and governance.

The funding available to the trust has been very substantially reduced over the past few years and indeed is likely to reduce further. What's more, although the trust has an excellent record in drawing in external funds for projects in Shetland, finding that sort of support for our work has become more difficult and, in future, our bids for projects will have to be even more competitive.

At some point, those financial pressures were bound to have an impact on the organisation. Because a formal process has now begun, I cannot comment in detail, but I do know that our managers will be looking very carefully at how reductions are to be achieved and, in particular, at any means of minimising compulsory redundancies.

Crucially, there will continue to be liaison with relevant trade unions, whose advice will play an important part in our decisions. I need hardly add that none of the trustees would have wished to find themselves in a position where the possibility of job losses was being contemplated.

In relation to the second issue, the trust's governance, trustees are aware of the need for substantial change. Trustees met last week to consider recommended actions, based on independent advice; some are immediate; a couple have already been put into effect. Others will be pursued in the weeks and months to come. We intend to:

  • Agree a strategic plan, involving trustees and staff in its preparation, which will deal with the issues we face and set direction. Progress will be reviewed at every meeting.
  • Clarify lines of authority on all projects
  • Review all our policies and develop new ones where required
  • Establish a sub committee to consider human resources policies, including for example the need for an appraisal scheme of the kind that Robina Barton mentions in her letter. The terms of reference are already agreed and trustees will be appointed to it on 18 October
  • Establish a committee to audit and manage performance and risk, which will support the trust in bringing a much greater degree of scrutiny to all aspects of finance and governance. Terms of reference for this are in draft and will be considered on 18 October; appointments are also likely to be made that day
  • Seek to appoint, among new trustees, at least one person with significant financial experience
  • Ensure all trustees are thoroughly trained in the knowledge and skills needed to do their job, and understand the responsibilities they have, particularly in relation to providing the scrutiny and constructive challenge on which any organisation like ours must rely
  • Improve the recruitment process for trustees so that it takes account of the skills needed and includes an interview; proper induction arrangements will also be introduced
  • Place a limit on the number of terms that trustees can serve
  • Introduce a code of conduct
  • Require a declaration of any interests at the beginning of every meeting; this was introduced last week
  • Make our activities even more transparent; where possible, we've always held meetings in public and the media often attend, but we shall be making minutes and other material much more readily available.

The difficulties that we face, in both funding and governance, are not unique to Shetland Amenity Trust; other local and national organisations face them too, or have done so recently. We are determined to overcome them and we have a clear plan to do so. Our main funders are fully aware of our circumstances and we have significant practical support from other agencies.

I would take this opportunity to remind anyone who wishes to help us tackle these challenges that applications to join the board of trustees are now open, with a closing date of 11 October. As noted above, we're particularly keen to hear from anyone with a financial background.

To achieve a better-balanced board that better represents the community, we're also keen to hear from women and people under 50. Of course, it's a challenging role, but trustees, as well as our very knowledgeable and talented staff, can continue to make a real and rewarding contribution to securing the future of the Shetland heritage and culture that we all hold dear.

George Sutherland
Vice-Chair
Shetland Amenity Trust

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