‘Staff must not be made the scapegoats for the failings of others‘

Open letter to the trustees of Shetland Amenity Trust

Dear trustees,

I have thought long and hard about whether to write this letter but I am deeply concerned that staff at the Shetland Amenity Trust are facing job losses because of longstanding issues of financial management that are not of their making (Amenity trust prepare for job losses; SN, 28/09/17).

I myself walked out of my job at the amenity trust two years ago because of this very failure to address the long-term sustainability of the trust, meaning that I was employed there on temporary contracts for nine years.

I was not alone in this situation. The fact that nobody in management or governance questioned why someone would walk out of a job they loved with no job to go to, tells its own tale.

Staff at Shetland Amenity Trust have never had a proper forum to express their views or concerns.

Many years ago, I and others were involved in the development of a staff appraisal scheme, based on best practice from elsewhere, that could have gone some way to addressing this lack, but it was not adopted for reasons that were never made clear.

Last year I applied to become a trustee of Shetland Amenity Trust, feeling that it might be an opportunity to try to raise some issues at governance level. I was unsuccessful following a ‘secret postal ballot’ in a process that did not even include an interview.

How appropriate a means this is of appointing people to the governance of a publicly funded organisation I leave to others to determine, but looking in from outside I believe that in moving forward two things are critical:

There needs to be a proper consideration of what the Shetland Amenity Trust exists to achieve. It is not a business, it is about community benefit, and this should be at the heart of any restructuring process.

The staff must not be made the scapegoats for the failings of others, and this will require an injection of cash from somewhere. Fortunately, Shetland, unlike other places, does have some money put away for a rainy day.

For the staff of Shetland Amenity Trust the proverbial rainy day has come. I believe the Shetland Charitable Trust both could and should provide a bail out and, potentially, a larger ongoing package of funding subject to development of a clear framework of community benefits to be delivered across the islands.

We are not talking in abstracts here. Real people are facing the loss of their livelihood because others have failed to do what was required of them, and not just within Shetland.

One must question the purpose of OSCR, if not to ensure the proper financial governance of registered Scottish charities.

I hope that at the eleventh hour some consideration will be given to these points, before people are forced into unemployment.

Robina Barton
Old Station Cottage