SNP - Tom Wills

OSCR seeks public views on charitable trust’s ‘undemocratic’ new governance proposals

SCOTLAND’S charity regulator is consulting the people of Shetland before deciding whether to approve Shetland Charitable Trust’s latest governance proposals, which may result in the £230m fund no longer having any elected representatives.

There remains uncertainty over the trust’s future governance arrangements after Shetland Islands Council indicated in June that it no longer wished to nominate any councillors to sit on SCT’s board.

This reform is a continuation of efforts to place clear blue water between the local authority and the trust after decision-making was at risk of being paralysed by councillors’ perceived conflicts of interest.

Prior to 2012 the trust was made up of 22 councillor-trustees along with the AHS head teacher and Shetland’s lord lieutenant. That was diluted to seven councillor-trustees and eight appointed trustees, and now it is set to be altered to four councillor-trustees and 11 appointed trustees.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has published a summary of the planned changes, which have been approved by trustees in the face of calls from the SIC, its own vice-chairman Jonathan Wills, MSP Tavish Scott and others for a majority of trustees to be directly elected.

A trust spokesman confirmed OSCR was inviting representations from the public as part of the regulatory process that it has to undertake before approving, or otherwise, the proposed amendments to the SCT’s governance.

Vice-chairman Jonathan Wills is at loggerheads with the trust over his concern about the loss of democratic control.

The trust’s proposals specify a minimum of nine and a maximum of 15 trustees, allowing for up to four SIC councillors and 11 selected trustees.

Wills wrote to OSCR in December to complain that the public, and most trustees, had not seen the text of the draft trust deed before it was sent to OSCR’s Dundee headquarters.

He also complained that the trust had not consulted all beneficiaries of the trust – including the population of Shetland – about its decision not to have directly elected trustees.

Wills has consistently opposed the “dilution of democratic control” and said he would not sign the proposed new deed if it includes a majority of non-elected trustees.

He described the OSCR consultation – which runs until late February – as the “last chance” to protest at the removal of democratic influence over the trust.

“Some people want all trustees to be elected and I sympathise with that,” Wills said. “What I’ve suggested is a compromise, with eight of the 15 trustees being directly elected and the other seven selected.

“If enough citizens write to OSCR objecting to the undemocratic course this unelected majority on the trust is taking, then there’s a chance that OSCR will ask them to think again.

“If everyone just mutely accepts the loss of democratic control over almost half of Shetland’s oil money, then that’s the legacy they’ll leave to future generations of islanders. I’ve done my best to stop this but so far I’ve got nowhere. Now it’s up to the people of Shetland.” 

  • You can read OSCR’s summary of the proposed changes here
  • Representations are being sought up until a deadline of 23 February 2017, and representations can be made here
  • The regulator’s email address is info@oscr.org.uk.
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