SHETLAND Islands Council leader Gary Robinson says the local authority has received “clear advice” that it should not submit any more than two councillors to act as trustees on Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT).
Councillors are due to discuss SCT’s governance reform proposals – which would see the SIC’s presence on the trust diluted from seven to four, sitting alongside 11 appointed trustees – at a meeting on 30 June.
Robinson favours “at least” a majority of elected trustees, but said the council has been advised having any more than two councillors risked having the SIC’s accounts “grouped” with the trust.
Elected trustees are the only way for the trust to provide a satisfactory level of accountability to islanders, he said.
The trust deed says that it exists in order to benefit inhabitants of Shetland.
“It’s not about politicising the trust, it’s about democratising the trust,” Robinson said. “People shouldn’t confuse the two.”
In addition to the Stornoway Trust, which elects trustees, he pointed to the Cooperative group which issues postal ballot papers to members who can elect candidates who have set out how they would meet its stated aims and objectives.
Robinson said he did not accept the argument that the trust is “somehow driven” by charities regulator OSCR, which is due to visit the islands next week.
“The only risk of OSCR stepping in is if the trust failed,” he said, and he remains concerned by the trust’s lack of engagement with the community.
Robinson believes the regulator is likely to accept the current reform proposals “regardless of opposition”, though he may decide to write to OSCR outlining his views.
But if the council does decide not to put four councillors forward to be trustees, he thinks the trust would be “foolish” to put its proposals forward and would “really have to consider its position”.
Meanwhile, a campaigner seeking to restore democracy to SCT has written to Robinson calling for members of the public to be given the chance to air their views on how the trust should be reformed.
Peter Hamilton, who formed the group Democracy for Shetland’s Charitable Trust, said he hoped the council would give members of the public the chance to speak about the trust’s “outrageous and regressive” plan.
“June 2016 is a pivotal month for Shetland,” Hamilton said. “The next four weeks are a rare opportunity for folk to shape the future.”
Last week SNP election candidate Danus Skene and former Wir Shetland chairman John Tulloch both condemned the latest reforms, calling for the majority of trustees to be elected instead.
In his letter to Robinson, Hamilton calls for a “genuine and well publicised public meeting scheduled at a convenient time and structured in a way that requires councillors to face and hear from their electorate during their deliberations”.
He said the “high-handed, expensive, unwarranted and aggressive legal threats” from SCT-owned property company SLAP towards HNP Engineering illustrate the need for the public to have their say.
Hamilton also argues that SCT-funded activities “most favour those with disposable income above those who struggle to get by”, cites public concern that SCT’s meetings are “mostly held in private” and highlights a “growing desire in Shetland’s business community to see proper checks and balances put in place to prevent SCT from being captured by vested interests in future”.
So far 138 people, described by Hamilton as “an impressive array of fair minded folk”, have signed an online petition calling for full democratic control with trustees being directly elected.
Hamilton’s letter says the campaign’s favoured model would be 12 directly elected trustees.
While existing trustees would be free to stand for election, he says existing appointed trustees “have not shown themselves capable of escaping groupthink” and have “either been beguiled or groomed into compliance”.
He added that councillors have “a great opportunity to act decisively… to bring to an end the era of cronyism and sleaze that has tainted public life in Shetland”.
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