CAB - 7 Oct 2020 - 10 Oct 2020 - Advice

Letters / Silent complicity

Jonathan Wills’ frustrations with Tavish Scott’s failure to back our community council and the SIC in their efforts to restore solid accountability to Shetland Charitable Trust (‘Confused?’, SN 14/10/16) are understandable. 

Tavish’s SCT-friendly position can also be understood. If he is over-critical of the trust it would be his responsibility to fix it, and there are few tools for such a job.

However it is constructive that Tavish has said the trust will only be politically legitimate if it is, at least in part, accountable. The implications of this are quite important. The further the trust moves from accountability, the more it lacks legitimacy and the more its reputation will suffer.

Only by restoring accountability can the trust’s reputation be improved. So why not? All this would require would be for the trust to state elections for vacancies is the “plan B” should the next council also refuse to provide councillor-trustees. The trust’s choice to cause needless delay by going back to the next council for another no is a clear indicator of their determination to resist accountability. 

If there was to be a “plan B” there would be one already. They had from May to September to come up with one, and didn’t. They could work on one this winter, but won’t. The proper priorities of the trust have been distorted by Viking Energy. Avoiding accountability for what is happening there is the trust’s main aim.

Whilst contemplating Tavish’s unspecified “reservations” about elections we can wonder if he has any reservations regarding the most recent actions of the trust. Does it bother Tavish that the trust can now appoint trustees from south who will have little or no idea how frustrated local folk are with an unaccountable appointocrasy? Does it bother Tavish that the trust has now granted itself the power to make further changes to its deed without reference to the people of Shetland or the charities regulator? It he at all troubled that the position of our elected councillors has been totally ignored?

What has just happened is something like your neighbour asking if he can borrow your car, being firmly told “no” and then deciding to sneak off with it and the ownership docs anyway. Their actions here are of course technically legal, but at the same time are far more than simply unneighbourly. They are taking illiberal liberties with Shetland’s oil money yet Shetland has never entrusted it to their care. 

The radical position here is not that held by the Association of Shetland’s Community Councils who want a fully accountable trust, or by Shetland Islands Council who want to see a majority of directly elected trustees and clear blue water between the two organisations. Those positions, mine and that of Jonathan Wills, Wir Shetland and Shetland Conservative and Unionist Association are all firmly in the mainstream. 

The radical position here is that a minimally accountable trust be  allowed to become an unaccountable trust, as it will be in June 2017, and be left to fund Shetland’s other unaccountable quangos. This position is radical in a dangerous way and, so far as can be told, is only held by a very few members of Shetland’s establishment, but perhaps by just enough to ensure Shetland’s other political parties in Shetland are complicit in their silence. Two hundred and forty million pounds, poorly governed, has one hell of an ability to distort fair play.

Keith Massey, chairman of SCT’s audit and governance committee, has likened the “evolution” of the trust to a journey. As the driver on this journey, the trust has shown no intention of discussing a choice of destinations with its captive passengers.

In effect, the people of Shetland have been carjacked by their own charitable trust and are now held captive, waiting in a lay-by. We don’t know where we are going to end up and our Liberal Democrat MSP doesn’t think we deserve a say. This is lazy thinking, laissez faire, pro-status quo liberalism at its very worst. If matters deteriorate hereafter those who had least to say will be most to blame.

Peter Hamilton

Sundibanks 

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