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Hunter issues warning as trustees resign

THE CHAIRMAN of Shetland Charitable Trust has issued a stark warning to trustees that the charity will not be held to ransom by members threatening to resign.

The comments came after two councillor trustees stood down on Tuesday morning over claims the trust was misled over its decision to cease funding and close down the Shetland Youth Information Service.

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Chairman Bobby Hunter said any trustee trying to lobby on behalf of an organisation was likely to “run into trouble”.

On 28 March the trust voted in private against providing bridge funding for the Market Cross-based service while Shetland Islands Council draws up a youth strategy.

Councillors Peter Campbell and George Smith were unable to take part in the debate as they sit on the SYIS board.

Lerwick councillor and SYIS director Peter Campbell

However both men felt the report by trust chief executive Ann Black was “seriously flawed” and did not accurately reflect the current position with the organisation.

Prior to the meeting, Campbell wrote a letter to fellow trustees outlining what he believed were misleading statements within Black’s report.

However the trust’s legal advisors blocked the letter’s circulation, saying it would be the equivalent of Campbell taking part in the debate.

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Speaking after his resignation, Campbell said he could not be part of an organisation that withheld information and expected its members to merely “rubber stamp” decisions.

“The whole tone and slant of the report is from the very outset one which would be designed to ensure that members of the trust supported the recommendation of trust officials,” he said.

george smith

Smith said he had no choice but to resign because he felt so strongly the report did not accurately reflect the current situation, where directors were working hard with the council to resolve problems at SYIS.

“I have lost many votes in the past and I will lose many more. I have no problem if I feel there’s been a full debate with full information in front of people, it’s nothing to do with losing the argument,” he said.

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Black’s report to trustees recommended withdrawing annual funding of £188,840 from SYIS because the organisation had not fulfilled its obligations set by the previous grant.

Posts had been left vacant, the SYIS website had not been updated and the service lacked direction due to its manager Barry Callieu being on extended sick leave.

SIC children’s services director Helen Budge had recommended six months bridge funding while the council drew up its youth strategy and her report was to be presented to the trust meeting as an appendix.

However meanwhile trust chairman Bobby Hunter and vice chairman Jonathan Wills had drawn up a compromise to provide just three months bridge funding, which was defeated by six votes to four.

Hunter said Black’s report was never actually presented at the meeting; instead the compromise was subject to a “full and frank discussion” that lasted 45 minutes during which all sides were aired and council officials answered questions.

He also insisted the trust was anxious to support youth organisations and was hoping to become open to new bids in the near future.

“Nothing was said that was anti-youth in the debate, in fact quite the opposite,” he said.

However he was firm in his response to Smith and Campbell, saying the trust would not be influenced “by resignations or threats of resignation”.

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“I have the best legal advice that the trust acted properly in the way it conducted the meeting about SYIS. I am also quite certain that the decision to end funding was taken on the basis of sound evidence.

“The public expects us to safeguard trust funds and that is what we did. If we find that an organisation funded by the trust has not met the conditions of its grant, then that grant is very likely to be removed.

“Likewise any trustee seeking to lobby the trust on behalf of another organisation that he or she represents is likely to run into trouble.”

This was only the second meeting of the newly reformed trust, which is asserting its independence from Shetland Islands Council to meet the demands of the charities regulator.

Meanwhile 14 full and part time staff have been left in limbo, as SYIS directors and trade unions seek clarity from the council and the trust about their future.

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