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Councillors stick by decision not to sit on charitable trust

SHETLAND Islands Council members have unanimously agreed to maintain the last council’s policy of not putting anyone forward to sit as trustees of Shetland Charitable Trust (SCT).

At a Full Council meeting on Wednesday, the SIC’s most senior lawyer and monitoring officer Jan Riise advised members that that it would be wise if the council “maintains its position not to make any appointments to the SCT now, or in the future”.

Riise’s report was in response to a request from the trust – which holds over £250 million in resources to spend within the Shetland community – for the council to reconsider.

Following years of difficulty regarding conflicts of interest when councillors also served as trustees, in June 2016 the last council decided it would no longer put members forward.

The most recent reform to charitable trust governance was for a model of 11 appointed trustees to be joined by four councillor-trustees. That was branded “undemocratic” by some, including then trust vice-chairman Jonathan Wills, local MSP Tavish Scott and several councillors, and there were calls for a majority of trustees to be directly elected instead.

At Wednesday’s meeting, SIC leader Cecil Smith said he “don’t really see the benefit of being… on the charitable trust” given the number of occasions when councillor-trustees had to leave the chamber because of a potential conflict of interest.

He moved the recommendations of Riise’s report – which also advised members not to appoint any councillors to the board of the Shetland Seafood Management Organisation (SSMO) – and was seconded by South Mainland councillor Robbie McGregor.

Trust chairman Bobby Hunter said he was “disappointed” with the outcome.

“Previous councillor-trustees brought great experience and insight to our work, however we welcome the clarity that today’s decision provides,” Hunter said. “The trust will reflect on the council’s decision and consider options for the future.”

Until 2012 the trust consisted of 22 councillor-trustees alongside, somewhat anomalously, the Anderson High School head teacher and Shetland’s lord lieutenant. That was diluted to a balance of seven councillor-trustees and eight appointed trustees, prior to the more recent reform.