SNP - Tom Wills

Charitable trust reform one step closer

THE TWENTY three trustees of the Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) will meet on Thursday behind closed doors to hear the views of one of Scotland’s top lawyers’ on the charity’s constitutional crisis.

Roy Martin QC, a former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, was tasked in November to review the trust’s constitution and give his legal opinion on whether the charity needs to reform in the light of strong criticism from the charity regulator OSCR.

The Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator wants the trust to distance itself from the council by reducing the number of councillors serving as trustees.

Dealing with two complaints from members of the public, the regulator found that SCT’s structure made it “extremely difficult for it to demonstrate its independence from the local authority”.

These difficulties came into sharp focus during the transfer of the Viking Energy assets from the council to the trust.

At present, 21 of the 23 trustees are also councillors with a 22nd, the head teacher of the Anderson High School, Valerie Nicolson, also owning a duty towards the local authority.

General manager of the trust Ann Black said on Monday that she was not at liberty to discuss the content of Mr Martin’s deliberation but confirmed that trustees were to meet “for a workshop to discuss the findings” on Thursday.

She said she could not pre-empt what trustees will decide to do with Mr Martin’s recommendations, and added that the public meeting of the trust was on 12 May.

The QC’s legal opinion comes just weeks after OSCR published a 37 page document entitled ‘Who’s in Charge: Control and Independence in Scottish Charities’.

It is thought that the QC’s opinion on Shetland Charitable Trust will not differ wildly from what is expressed by the regulator in its latest report.

In it the Shetland Charitable Trust is being discussed in a case study highlighting the trust’s difficulties in handling conflicts of interest in a set-up where the charity has a close link with another body, in this case Shetland Islands Council.

The key points the report’s authors highlight are:

• “The make-up of a Board, where it is dominated by members from a linked body, can lead to an inherent risk of recurrent conflict of interest
• Conflict of interest policy should be applied in all situations where there is a conflict or potential conflict
• The charity should consider whether it is advisable to maintain a board where conflict of interest arises so frequently that charity trustees must withdraw thus preventing effective management of the charity
• Charity trustees should always demonstrate that they are behaving in the best interests of the charity and be conscious of how their actions appear to the public.”

Dr Black said: “We were aware that we were being used as a case study and we were allowed to see the information from OSCR before it was made public.”



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