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Letters / Grossly unfair

In your recent editorial comment you accuse the Shetland Charitable Trust of being “callous”.

It’s a pity you did not read the trust’s list of annual charitable disbursements before making this grossly unfair allegation.

The reasons for ending the Christmas bonus were carefully explained in the papers for the trust meeting on 11 November, which were sent to you in advance, as usual.

At the meeting we discussed in public, for almost an hour, the pros and cons of operating the scheme for another year without access to reliable information about the financial circumstances of the beneficiaries. Every trustee who spoke expressed regret that the scheme had to end. Is this “callous”?

Trustees were not making this up. The reasons for ending the Christmas bonus are real, not administratively convenient excuses. Even if we had the staff to conduct a means test on all the applicants (whether elderly, disabled or “working poor”) we could not get access to essential personal information on state benefits because the government will not share it with us, due to the Data Protection Act.

The council’s social work section is in the same position, so the bonus simply could no longer be operated fairly.

In Alaska they hand out an annual cheque from their oil fund to every citizen in the state, regardless of need. It can be as much as a thousand dollars a head. I suppose we could do the same here. Every man, woman and child in Shetland would then get £434.78p in their Santa sock next Wednesday night.

But would that be the most efficient way to use the money? Would it produce the same good effects as the charitable trust has, over the past 38 years? I don’t think so.

In Shetland we prefer to target need where it exists, rather than dishing out cheques to everyone.

Unlike the State of Alaska’s handouts from the “Permanent Fund”, all of our trust’s disbursements are charitable. They have to be, or we’d end up paying tax to the Treasury.

Some years ago we could not prove to the Inland Revenue that all the Christmas bonus payments were going to people who actually needed them. At one point the trust was paying £100,000 a year in tax as a result.

Older readers will recall that the whole purpose of setting up a charitable trust in 1976 was to keep the Treasury’s hands off the Shetland people’s oil money. It is no business of the trust to subsidise central government.

There are still too many poor people in Shetland and the trust helps them as best it can, by funding other organisations which have the specialist knowledge and expertise to provide services to those who need them – not just the elderly, but also the disabled and others in difficult personal circumstances.

The full list of these charitable organisations and how much they receive is published every year. It includes small charities and also Voluntary Action Shetland, which provides office accommodation and administrative help to many of them.

What the charitable trust is not equipped to do (and never was, really) is to act as a benefits agency. That’s the government’s job.

Criticisms of the welfare system in this country (with which I agree) should be directed to our MP, Alistair Carmichael, who’s a member of David Cameron’s cabinet and for the past four and a half years has propped up and defended the lamentable changes to the benefits system which have made so many people so much worse off.

I can assure your readers that Shetland Charitable Trust will always be charitable, never “callous”, and the trustees are determined to manage the fund carefully, so that this happy state of affairs can continue in perpetuity.

Jonathan Wills
Vice chairman
Shetland Charitable Trust

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