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Frustration over trust referendum delay

TRUSTEES of Shetland Charitable Trust have voiced their frustration with delays in setting up a referendum on trust reform.

Trustees surprised local people six weeks ago when they backed a call from Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness for a referendum on how the £200 million trust should be run.

At the time a detailed paper on removing council control of the trust was not even discussed.

Since then little has happened, leading a number of trustees to demand an explanation at Thursday morning’s trust meeting, even though the issue was not on the agenda.

Trust chairman Bill Manson said they had received advice from their own legal team that there were doubts as to whether trustees had the power to hold such a referendum.

He said their lawyers were currently waiting to hear from charity regulator OSCR, who have so far only said that they were “carefully considering” the trust’s decision.

Mr Manson added that a trust meeting would be called as soon as advice from OSCR was received.

“There are some doubts that we have the powers to hold a referendum. In any case it would only be a consultative referendum, and it would not take away the responsibilities of trustees,” he said.

Cecil Smith and Betty Fullerton expressed their concern as to the timescale, with Mrs Fullerton asking why they were waiting on OSCR when the trust had already received legal advice from its own lawyers.

Jonathan Wills said trustees were being frustrated by the delay, which was “not good enough”. But Mr Manson reminded Dr Wills that the trust was under a “monitoring regime” from OSCR and they therefore needed to be involved in the discussion.

Gary Robinson said: “We have taken a decision and therefore we should move ahead. If OSCR is unhappy with this we would have heard of this by now.”

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