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New twist in trust reform

THE LONG running saga of reforming the £200 million Shetland Charitable Trust took yet another twist on Wednesday when trustees, this time sitting as councillors, voted for a rethink.

In December the trust agreed on the casting vote of its chairman, councillor Bill Manson, to remove councillor control of the trust for the first time since it was set up in the 1970s.

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The decision to appoint a majority of independent trustees to sit alongside seven councillors led to the immediate resignation of council convener Sandy Cluness and councillor Jonathan Wills from the trust.

However on Wednesday the same group of people, this time sitting as Shetland Islands Council, backed a motion by councillor Gary Robinson to urge the trust to reconsider its decision.

The local authority will now write to the trust and the Scottish charity regulator OSCR voicing its concern over the plans for reform.

Mr Robinson won his move to call for the independent trustees to be elected rather than appointed by 10 votes to eight.

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Councillors Manson and Jim Henry left the council chamber during the debate after declaring a financial interest as chairman and vice chairman of the trust.

Most councillors declared a non-financial interest, but they resolved to debate the motion despite warnings from the council’s legal adviser Jan Riise that they should think twice.

Councillor Robinson and convener Sandy Cluness said the council needed to have a view on the issue because of its close working partnership with the trust.

Others, including council leader Josie Simpson, Caroline Miller and Betty Fullerton said they felt “uncomfortable” debating trust business.

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Mr Simpson moved to “take no further action”, seconded by Mrs Miller, adding that “the council has no control over what the trust does”.

But she was told by convener Cluness that the local authority had transferred assets worth millions of pounds to the trust over the years, and therefore had “every right to discuss this”.

Gussie Angus added that it would be “irresponsible” not to express a view, because the SIC was a consultee on the matter of trust reform.

Mr Robinson added:  “As trustees we have taken a decision, but we are sitting here as the SIC, and it is important that we take a view on this here today.”

Referring to the charitable trust’s own consultation on reform back in 2010, Mr Robinson added: “One consultation has already been ignored. We urge the charitable trust to rethink this and keep the trust democratic.”

Councillors who backed the motion were: Gary Robinson, David Sandison, Jonathan Wills, Gussie Angus, Sandy Cluness, Allison Duncan, Florence Grains, Robert Henderson, Andrew Hughson and Rick Nickerson.

Against were: Josie Simpson, Cecil Smith, Allan Wishart, Jim Budge, Alastair Cooper, Betty Fullerton, Caroline Miller and Frank Robertson.

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