THERE IS an overwhelming consensus among candidates for the upcoming SIC elections that Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT) has made a mistake with its recent governance reform.
Shetland News asked all 32 candidates for their views on the reform and whether councillor-trustees still have a role to play in the trust – which is responsible for managing over £230 million of the islands’ oil wealth.
Shetland Charitable Trust has been given the okay by charities regulator OSCR to press ahead with a setup involving 11 appointed trustees and four councillor-trustees – despite the local authority indicating it would not put nominees forward to fill those chairs.
There has been a sustained campaign of opposition, with OSCR receiving nearly 450 messages of objection and not a single response in favour of the reform.
Twenty four of the 32 candidates have responded, with most calling for greater accountability and democracy. No one voiced outright support for the new governance structure.
Several respondents talked of the importance of better relations between the SIC and the trust, while there were differing views on the merits of having councillor-trustees on the trust’s board.
At the same time as offering candidates the opportunity to give their views on a number of topics, we asked: “Are you content with the recently-approved new governance structure for Shetland Charitable Trust, and do you believe councillor-trustees still have a role to play?”
Here are the responses.
Malcolm Bell: “No. Regardless of the OSCR decision the charitable trust must continue to reform in order to build and maintain confidence in its accountability to the Shetland public. It must be accountable to the Shetland public and be seen to be accountable.
“Councillor trustees have provided a valuable and valued service to the trust. The difficulty, in practice, is around conflicts of interest, which means councillor trustees are often excluded from debate at both the trust and the council. In the absence of councillor trustees it is vital that liaison between council and trust continues due to the vital and valuable roll the trust plays in funding services.
“I would also like to see the trust consider the co-option of MSYP’s and community council representatives and an independent appointing body to be delegated responsibility for appointment of appointed trustees. Forms of participatory budgeting should be considered to give the public a regular and direct say in the use of trust funds.”
John Fraser: “As at September 2016 SCT investments stood at a value of £220 million. Money that belongs to the people of Shetland. The management of this money must be transparent with trustees held to account where necessary. I will campaign for an independent trust with a majority of directly elected trustees in order to close the democratic deficit.”
Stephen Leask: “I have already been in contact with OSCR regarding this subject and my opinion both then and now is that a combination of selected and elected members would be more favourable. The balance of four councillors, four selected and eight elected members would create a more representational approach for the future role of the SCT.”
No response has been received from Thomas Williamson.
Peter Campbell: “I was in favour of there being no councillors appointed to the SCT and continue to hold that view. I find it strange that the opposition expressed by the Shetland public to the proposed governance arrangements has been ignored by OSCR. The new council will need to reconsider the question and should the view remain that no councillors are appointed to the SCT, then the SCT will require to reconsider its current governance arrangements.”
Frankie Valente: “The charitable trust is responsible for investing huge sums of Shetland’s money, therefore it must be as open and transparent as possible. It remains to be seen whether the new governance structure will be adequate and it is something that I would watch with interest.”
Beatrice Wishart: “No, I’m not content with the new governance structure for Shetland Charitable Trust. Trustees should be democratically elected and councillor-trustees should be at the table.”
Responses not received from Cecil Smith and Amanda Westlake.
Ryan Thomson: “No, I do not agree with the recent decision by the OSCR to approve the Shetland Charitable Trust reform proposed by members of the SCT which could result in the trust having no elected representatives. It also goes against public opinion with nearly 500 letters of complaint against the proposal.
I posted my own letter of complaint at the proposed changes, which of course was also ignored.
“Shetland Islands Council, who in June last year stated it would not put forward councillors to serve as trustees must review that decision, for the short term at least, when the new council is elected in May. Ideally in my opinion, it should have a majority of directly elected trustees with no SIC councillors sitting as trustees, however until this proposed reform is reversed, I do believe that councillors may still have a role to play.”
Duncan Simpson: “No, I am not content with the current governance structure of the Trust. I believe there needs to be a majority of elected trustees so that there is public accountability. I am not convinced these need to be Councillors but at the very least they should be elected.”
Lynsey Cunningham: “I am not in favour of the recent governance changes to the Shetland Charitable Trust, as I firmly believe that councillor-trustees still have a vital role to play in ensuring the money is utilised to enhance Shetland.”
Alec Priest: “I am very concerned that OSCR ignored the views of the Shetland public and let the trust go ahead with making the charitable trust undemocratic. What is the point in having a national regulator that doesn’t regulate? We should get more of the morally conscious Shetland public involved with OSCR to prevent this from happening elsewhere.”
No response was received from Cecil Hughson.
Ian Scott: “The charitable trust trustees should be ashamed of themselves. At least the old Board of Guardians of previous centuries had at least a semblance of democracy. Who on earth do these people think they are?
“In that there has to be a sharing of knowledge between the SIC and the charitable trust, I would suggest that yes perhaps two or three councillors should be positioned as trustees, to keep the charitable trust trustees abreast of the SIC’s own thinking. I believe that it is deemed acceptable that anyone from outwith Shetland could be nominated as a Trustee. Deary, deary me, what kind of people run this trust?”
Davie Sandison: “When I stood for election last time round, I went on record as saying the trust should be democratically accountable. I believe the trustees should come from a combination of direct elections and appointment by virtue of other democratic process such as elected Community Council positions. If any, only a small number of trustees should be appointed.
“I am clear, whichever makeup the trust has, however, that the SIC must reinvigorate a close partnership with the trust for the good of Shetland. There is a clear problem with potential conflict of interest for SIC councillors to be trustees – even though I strongly believe it is in Shetland’s best interest to have people in both organisations working collectively in the Shetland interest. “
Brian Nugent: “The new structure complies with regulation so OSCR may be happy but that does not mean that we should not push for some sort of democratic input to the membership of the Charitable Trust. Ultimately, it is Shetland’s money. I suspect most folk feel that appointed trustees are out of step with modern times.”
Julie Buchan: “The charitable trust should be democratically elected, so hopefully the trustees will listen to the majority of Shetlanders and common sense will prevail.”
Mark Burgess: “Councillor trustees can still provide a measure of valuable input to the trust in its general affairs but, as all decisions that impact on either organisation are excluded in either forum, there are many instances where the appointments are counter-productive. Better use of separate entities such as the Shetland Partnership could bring the organisations to work together in partnership, without conflict.”
Emma McDonald: “The Shetland Charitable Trust should be a democratic organisation with elected members from both the general public and the council.”
Andrea Manson: “There needs to be public accountability and there will be four empty chairs at the charitable trust meetings in future as the council have decided not to appoint trustees.”
No responses were received from Alastair Cooper or Isobel Johnson.
George Smith: No, I believe the SCT should be democratically accountable with the majority,if not all, trustees elected. I shall not support the nomination of Councillor trustees as I cannot see any benefit for Shetland Islands Council in doing so. To do so merely gives the SCT the appearance of having some democratic accountability while at the same time confusing the relationship between the Trust and the Council and creating potential conflicts of interest.
Allison Duncan is also on record voicing strong opposition to the governance structure. No response from Robbie McGregor.
Catherine Hughson: “SCT trustees should all be elected in my view. I don’t agree with the current structure.”
Ian Tinkler: “No councillor-trustees, conflicts of interest must end. Independently elected trustees only.”
Steven Coutts: “No, I am not. I believe that the trust should be accountable to the Shetland people. I believe this should be through the direct election of the majority of Trustees. I do not believe that any SIC councillor should sit on the trust due to conflicts of interest that cannot be resolved.
“If elected I will not support any of the councillors being nominated and appointed to the trust. There are a number of individuals within our community that would make very good trustees.”
Gary Robinson: “No. I’m not content with the new governance structure for the Shetland Charitable Trust. I have made it clear for some time now that I want to see a majority of independently elected trustees on the trust.
“The real and perceived conflicts of interest of councillor trustees render the current proposal entirely useless to both organisations. Add to that the ‘grouping of accounts’ issue and this option is even less attractive. Despite this the trust and the council must find a way to work together and a liaison group consisting of trustees and councillors might be a way forward.
“At the moment the trust’s failure to recognise the community’s legitimate demand for democratic accountability is disappointing and, worse still, it distracts from all of the good work that the trust does. “
Theo Smith: “The recently approved Shetland Charitable Trust governance structure is certainly not what should be in place to control what is, in effect, public money, which is held in a Charitable Trust for tax purposes. But, I am still to be convinced that yet another set of elections is the answer. Whilst campaigning on the west side in the last two and a half weeks I have spoken to many people and, to date, only one person has brought up the charitable trust.
“I would like to see an equal number of elected and appointed trustees, say 14 in total. Therefore there could be an argument for a mixture of elected Councillors and Community Councillors to make up the democratic deficiency. This is a proposal which could possibly be considered by the Charitable Trust in conjunction with Association of Shetland Community Councils and the council. One thing is certain; relations between SIC and SCT must improve for the good of Shetland.”
Debbie Nicolson: “I’m not happy at all with the new governance structure of the charitable trust. I would ideally like to see directly elected members on the trust rather than the less ideal councillor-trustee.
“As I have mentioned in my manifesto, I think a balance of directly elected and appointed members, with the chair as the deciding vote, would fit in with the charity regulator OSCR and this would also bring more democracy to the charitable trust. If elected I would like to work towards reversing the decision to have the majority of trustees appointed. As an interim measure the council should reverse its decision to appoint fewer members to the trust to keep some form of democracy.”