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Amenity trust prepares for job losses

Actin trust chairman Capt. George Sutherland: 'serious financial problems'. Photo Hans J Marter/Shetland News

JOB cuts are likely to be made at Shetland Amenity Trust as the organisation attempts to counter its “serious” financial problems.

The trust, which runs the Shetland Museum and Archives on behalf of Shetland Islands Council and is also supported annually with £1.3 million from Shetland Charitable Trust, says it needs to reduce its deficit by at least £200,000 this financial year or face losing vital funding.

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SIC development committee chairman Alastair Cooper said the council, the charitable trust and VisitScotland will all work together to “collectively support” the trust during its restructuring.

Staff costs for its 100 employees are the amenity trust’s largest outgoings. Acting chairman Capt. George Sutherland said there was “no alternative” to looking at job losses.

He said: “Staff are aware of the problems and have already contributed many constructive ideas for making savings but there is currently no alternative to considering reducing the number of staff.

“This is a difficult time for all staff as well as trustees, but we remain optimistic that after reorganisation the trust will continue to make a positive contribution to the preservation, protection and improvement of Shetland’s heritage.”

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In a letter to all members of staff this week, Capt. Sutherland confirmed many of the concerns voiced privately by trust employees over recent months.

He said the amenity trust has “serious financial problems” which have been “creeping up on us for several years”.

Capt. Sutherland said they stemmed from “the way the trust was run in the past” in addition to new commitments and projects being taken on sometimes “without enough foresight and planning for the running costs”.

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This is likely to be further exacerbated once the UK leaves the European Union as a significant number of amenity trust projects have been grant funded by Europe over the years.

Trustees agreed earlier this year to review of the organisation and establish a redesign of the trust, which Sutherland said is now “well advanced”.

The refurbished Sumburgh lighthouse visitor centre is one of the trust's flagship projects.

But it became clear recently that the trust does not have time on its side with regards to its finances – and immediate action is needed, with economies needing to be found before the restructure of the trust is agreed on.

The amenity trust recently failed twice this year to re-secure the Promote Shetland contract it had for nearly a decade.

Long-serving general manager Jimmy Moncrieff passed away earlier this year, while chairman Brian Gregson stepped down from his role in September due to health reasons.

In June Gregson told Shetland News that he could not guarantee all jobs and activities would be safe as the trust continued its review.

“The steps we’re about to take may include job losses, in addition to some immediate savings on costs other than wages – and our continuing efforts to earn more revenue,” Capt. Sutherland added in his letter.

“Trustees greatly regret having to take this action and will do all we can to minimise redundancies. We remain committed to the longer-term reorganisation which will put the trust on a sounder footing and enable us to continue as many as possible of the services we provide to the public.”

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The SIC funds the trust to the tune of £913,554 to deliver the museum and archives in Lerwick.

Development man Cooper said on Thursday: “We’re committed to working with the Shetland Amenity Trust to ensure that they are able to continue to deliver the Museum and Archives service for Shetland.

“We’re keen to see Shetland promoted as an attractive place to live, work, study and visit. Shetland Museum is popular with both visitors and locals alike, as a place to learn more about our substantial cultural heritage. The Ttust has also had a positive track record of delivering many successful local heritage and environmental projects.

“The council, Shetland Charitable Trust and VisitScotland are working together to ensure we can collectively support Shetland Amenity Trust through this period of restructuring.”

The trust has now entered a formal process of consultation with staff and trustees are unable to comment while this ongoing. 

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