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Letters / Trust needs a fresh start

In response to Jonathan Wills’ letter, (‘Trust is not a “cabal”‘, SN 31/8/16) it should be remembered that all but one other trustee, a councillor-trustee, voted against democracy on 12 May. Not one trustee has since publicly acknowledged that to have been a mistake.

 Shetland Charitable Trust’s aims provide a fair means of assessing the effectiveness of trustees, appointed or not.

Trustee role description, 2014 – Shetland Charitable Trust aims to:

a) improve the quality of life for the people of Shetland, especially in the areas of social care and welfare, the arts, culture, sport and recreation, and the environment, natural history and heritage;
b) ensure that the most vulnerable in the community receive the highest possible standard of service and care;
c) protect and enhance Shetland’s environment, heritage, culture and traditions;
d) support facilities and services and jobs located in rural areas, where these are beyond what would normally be expected to be provided as core public services;
e) support pilot and developmental projects where they seek to meet a clearly identified service gap within the community

Putting the protection of the environment aside (and not everyone will agree it should be) the decision to close the trust to new bids was hardly likely to meet developing service gaps for the most vulnerable in our community. The trust used to fund Shetland Youth Information Service, Women of Worth and Community Alcohol Drugs Service Shetland. Do those who relied on these services get the highest level of service now?

There has been a collective failure to meet the trust’s aims and it has been severe.

We also know from former Citizen’s Advice Bureau manager, Les Irving, that the trust’s relationship with the voluntary sector is patronising and paternalistic. No partnership there.

In community planning, where the needs of vulnerable groups get considered, we know from Convenor Malcolm Bell the trust has been disengaged (‘Trust must “actively support” partner agencies’, SN 30/6/16). Had SCT been pulling its weight, SIC convener Malcolm Bell would not have provided his diplomatic criticism.

We know from SIC political leader Gary Robinson that SCT is not “businesslike”.

We know the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) saw fit to point out the trust should secure its reputation paying attention to the views its beneficiaries.

We also know SCT has not regarded the voluntary sector or community councils as key groups to consult with. The likelihood is that their next proposal will be put straight to OSCR without first testing it’s appeal locally.

All in all we know more than enough to decide if the patronage based experiment of letting the powers that be select appointee-trustees has worked.

Furthermore, internally relationships seem dysfunctional. Jonathan Wills has made a comparison to North Korea.

The trust appears run according to the whims of feuding and feudal personalities who demand each other’s resignations. Should the trust instead not be run by enacting transparent policies which have been consulted on with the community?

Yes there are historic initiatives of which the whole community can feel proud, COPE for one is terrific, but given the extent of the communities’ wealth, so there should be.

There have been omissions too. Much more could have been done to help the disadvantaged benefit from education and so improve their quality of life. There is no strategy for community engagement, no policy to ensure funds are disbursed fairly and no strategy for children and young people.

Those in greatest need in Shetland urgently need this rich and powerful unique community trust to get back on track without further waste or delay.

The trust needs a completely fresh start. The campaign to fully reform it may have helped keep some pressure on, has clarified some of the problems and identified possible solutions but SCT vice-chairman Jonathan Wills is still right to praise the well intended volunteer appointee-trustees, just as he did on 12 May, even though they have let themselves be badly misled.

Hopefully all trustees will do the charitable thing at the AGM on the 15th and make sure the trust puts forward an option for consultation that the trust becomes fully elected without further delay. As a democrat Jonathan will know that option deserves to be put to the community as a straight choice alongside whatever scheme the trust has come up with behind closed doors.

If the opportunity for genuine reform is once again purposefully missed then, as a campaign, Democracy for Shetland’s Charitable Trust will need to start anew with fresh faces, new aims and ideas. Getting this far with the public mind initially fixed on unparalleled political turmoil south may have been something of an achievement, but if the campaign remains necessary it should of course continue to aim for a more constructive, less critical tone.

A public meeting is planned for 10am in Islesburgh Community Centre on Saturday 24 September. Only if some concerned citizens attend will there be a pressure group to ensure proper reform and better use of Shetland’s oil money so that the trust can meet it’s aims effectively.

Let’s hope SCT’s AGM in the Bowler’s Bar of the Clickimin on Thursday 15 at 7pm makes the campaign unnecessary. In the meantime the campaign website has informative interviews, policy suggestions, a petition and a governance proposal which was built in collaboration with the heads of Shetland’s political parties and Wir Shetland to which the intended beneficiaries of the trust, the Shetland public, can add their thoughts at democracy4sct.com.

Peter Hamilton
Current spokesman, Democracy for Shetland Charitable Trust