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Trust accepts need for change…again

SHETLAND Charitable Trust has taken the next step on the long journey to becoming more independent from Shetland Islands Council.

Trustees on Thursday instructed their governance review group to come up with proposals to change the make up of the trust’s board, following advice from Roy Martin QC.

Mr Martin provided legal advice after charity regulator OSCR told the trust its 23 member board could no longer be dominated by 21 councillors.

Last year the governance review group put up proposals to reduce the number of trustees to 15, including eight councillors, after spending 12 months considering the issue.

Last month Mr Martin’s advice, which cost the best part of £20,000, suggested a 15 member board should have just four councillors, allowing decisions to be made even when all councillors had to declare an interest.

On Thursday most trustees agreed that change had to come, despite a warning from trustee/councillor Rick Nickerson “to be careful going down this route”.

He drew the distinction that councillors were not appointed to sit as trustees, but “invited” by the trust to do so.

“We are voluntarily sitting here. I am entitled to do so, but we did not have to accept,” he said, adding that in his view the legal advice they had received was “suspect”.

In contrast, trustee and SIC vice convener Josie Simpson said he had long been against changing the constitution, but had changed his mind after working on the review group.

Others warned of the need to protect the trust’s assets, commitments and service level agreements with other bodies should it become completely independent of the council at some stage in the future.

Independent trustee Valerie Nicolson, a member of the working group, said: “This is a key signal to the community that we have the will to change.”

The governance review group has been given no deadline as to when they have to put their “detailed proposals” before trustees.

The trust came under pressure in 2008 to reform after a grass roots campaign group raised concerns about councillor control after the SIC announced its intention to pass the Viking Energy wind farm project to the trust.

Since then trustees have received legal advice from their own lawyers Turcan Connell as well as Mr Martin of the need for change. However trustees have consistently failed to agree on the right format the new board should take.