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Letters / Five constructive recommendations

The campaign calling for Shetland Charitable Trust trustees to be elected by the people of Shetland has written to Keith Massey with five constructive suggestions as to how the trust might proceed with finding an acceptable way of running the trust in future:


Dear Mr. Massey,

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of Shetland Charitable Trust’s Audit and Governance Advisory Committee with five suggestions for your consideration as to how the trust might best proceed now that Shetland Islands Council has rejected your proposal that the councillors continue to select and provide councillor-trustees to serve on the trust.

Following the trust’s meeting on 12 May you stated that once you had the council’s response you would take the governance proposal to the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) and allow them to consult with the people of Shetland on the new governance arrangement, as it did not constitute “a fundamental change” to the governance structure of the trust. The implication here being that had a fundamental change been proposed you would have consulted with the people of Shetland on it before taking it to OSCR for approval.

Our presumption is that the proposal to proceed with councillor trustees is now defunct and that no proposal has yet been submitted to OSCR. We expect you will agree that any new proposal which does not involve the outgoing councillor-trustees being replaced by directly elected trustees would constitute a fundamental change to the governance of the trust and would therefore need to be put to the people of Shetland before being passed to OSCR.

We are copying this letter to OSCR’s Chief Executive, David Robb, because in our view the council’s rejection of proceeding with councillor-trustees will have diminished the legitimacy of the current structure as seen through the eyes of the beneficiaries. The one accountable representative link to the beneficiaries, the councillor trustees who currently form a majority of trustees, is now no longer wanted by those who previously provided them – their fellow councillors. This has altered the relationship between the existing councillor-trustees and the beneficiaries, particularly as previously the majority of the councillor trustees supported the trust’s defunct proposal. The moral legitimacy of their prolonged presence on the trust is thereby weakened. Because of this we feel the primary goal of the councillor-trustees should be to see themselves replaced by directly elected trustees as the body which has sent them there as elected accountable representatives no longer wishes them to be part of the governance of the trust. Mr. Robb may wish to clarify whether such a change would be objected to by OSCR but it seems clear from his comments that it would not be. The trust simply needs to produce a governance proposal that would function, be acceptable to the beneficiaries and to OSCR.

You will recall Mr. Robb reminding beneficiaries and trustees of the need for the trust to secure its reputation with the beneficiaries by taking their views into account. We feel our campaign has thus far provided sufficient evidence of a desire for a fully elected trust, capable of appointing additional trustees as and when required. For this reason we hope to be assured by you that Shetland Charitable Trust will not now proceed simply to consult on Dr. Wills’ disallowed amendment. Our expectation is that OSCR would have no problem with the people of Shetland selecting 12 trustees by election with these trustees having the capacity to appoint a further three trustees for demographic or other balance, and to meet any skill gaps or experience gaps. This would, for example, enable the future trust to invite on residents of Shetland with first hand ongoing experience of raising a family whilst living in poverty. We suggest the trust consult on this proposal alongside any alternatives such as that from Dr. Wills.

It is hoped you will have found the opinion piece in the Shetland Times which pointed out some deficiencies in the Institute of Director’s (Scotland) somewhat mechanical report, and counterbalanced it with reference to the work of Amartya Sen, to be of interest. IoDS failed to identify several known benefits of democratic selection.

Presumably when your advisory group meets again there will be much to discuss. Our view is that this discussion and the means of selecting how to proceed with the governance question will be of interest to the people of Shetland. We therefore suggest that the advisory committee meets in public and allows beneficiaries to engage with trustees on how to proceed. This may help the trustees to avoid putting forward further unacceptable suggestions and would go a long way to improving the relationship of the trust. We also think that given the councillor trustees are so clearly out of step with the mood of the council as a whole they can no longer be considered to be providing a representative and accountable link to the beneficiaries, so expanding discussion at this point may be of interest.

Given that the efforts to find a new governance structure have hit problems signalling a different approach which involves the views of trust critics from the outset would be welcome and might increase the numbers of those wishing to offer themselves to be trustees in the future. It certainly seems from the interview response from former parliamentary candidate Danus Skene on our campaign website www.democracy4sct.com that he would wish to contribute to such a meeting and could do so effectively in a constructive and productive way. No doubt others could do likewise if they felt their views would get a fair hearing.

You may be aware our engagement with the residents of Shetland shows a significant proportion of them feel the trusts proceedings have been, and continue to be, distorted by the acquisition of Viking Energy. We hope that the current trustees will not allow fear that future trustees would not operate in the interest of the beneficiaries to dissuade them from making reasonably paced progress with the governance issue.

Finally we hope to convince you that the position of the trust that critics of the trust should be disbarred from becoming trustees is likely to bring with it all the downsides of groupthink. This already seems already to be evident in the meek acceptance of the IoDS report, the refusal to entertain Dr. Wills well reasoned amendment and the predictable and predicted rejection by the council of the proposal to include councillor trustees in the future governance of the trust. We hope you will agree the disbarring of critics as trustees should be overturned.

To recap this letter includes what we hope you will regard as five constructive suggestions:

  1. That the advisory committee you chair meet in public henceforth.
  2. That beneficiaries attending be given an opportunity to address the chair and ask questions.
  3. That the trust gives priority to the question of how to move forwards with replacing councillor trustees with representative and accountable directly elected trustees by seeking to make reasonably paced progress on this and seeking to avoid wasting time on exploring unacceptable proposals. Such a change would plainly help to improve the reputation of the trust just as unnecessary delay would threaten it.
  4. That the public be consulted on the option of a fresh board of twelve directly elected trustees who would be free to appoint a further three trustees as and when they see fit.
  5. That the trust drops the bar on critics becoming trustees.

Whilst making these constructive proposals we wish to remind you that we have evidenced that a significant proportion of the beneficiaries believe the trust is not doing all it can to meet the needs of Shetland’s most needs because it has been captured by proponents of Viking Energy who will do what they can to ensure the trust remains in their control. Whilst you are fully entitled to think them wrong we sincerely hope the trust will not proceed in such a way as to strengthen their perception.

Yours sincerely,
on behalf of Democracy For Shetland’s Charitable Trust,
Peter Hamilton