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New trust chief: no further redundancies planned

New Shetland Amenity Trust chief executive Mat Roberts at his desk in the trust's Garthspool offices. Photo: Shetland News.

SHETLAND Amenity Trust’s new chief executive has assured staff that there are “absolutely no plans” to look at further redundancies.

Speaking only four days into his tenure, Mat Roberts told Shetland News he had inherited a “very motivated and enthusiastic” workforce that is committed to making the trust a success.

Around 10 people lost their jobs over the autumn as part of an organisational overhaul carried out by interim general manager Andy Steven, who was brought in following the death of long-standing head of the trust Jimmy Moncrieff.

The heritage organisation, which receives over £2 million a year from the Shetland Islands Council and Shetland Charitable Trust towards the services it provides, made job cuts as part of efforts to reduce spending by around £200,000 in 2017/18.

In September, then chairman Captain George Sutherland wrote to staff acknowledging “serious financial problems” at the trust which had been “creeping up on us for several years”.

Roberts said he accepted the organisation was probably still in a state of flux and acknowledged “the last 12-15 months have been difficult”.

But staff, who have faced a sustained period of uncertainty, seem certain to be reassured by Roberts’ categorical assurance: “I have absolutely no plans for any redundancies, and neither does the trustee board.”

“I have to pay thanks to the people that have kept it on the road, which is a combination of the staff and the trustees and the community who support the organisation.

“I’ve been here for four days and I’ve had a chance to meet many of the staff – really impressed by them, very energetic, very knowledgeable, very committed to the organisation – which, from a trustees’ perspective and a chief executive’s perspective, that’s what you need – that’s how you keep an organisation flourishing.”

Roberts said he had already had discussions with the charitable trust, whose £1.2 million grant is “absolutely fundamental to the running of the organisation”.

He spoke of the trust’s strong track record for levering in funding to achieve its goals.

“We’re very appreciative of the money that they [the charitable trust] give us and we will work within the resources that they and our other funders provide us with,” Roberts said.

“If we find that we need more money, we have to go out and find that from other people, and that’s something that we will be doing. Historically the amenity trust has been able to go out and get external funding for the museum and for Sumburgh Head, and so on, and we will continue to do that.”

He said it was too early to identify major new projects, though on Monday he was due to head to Unst to look at progress on the National Trust for Scotland-led Halligarth project in Baltasound.

“It’s not a Sumburgh Head or museum-scale project, but it is one of the smaller projects that we may very well be deeply involved with to support the community in Unst, who have a lot to be proud of, and Halligarth is one of those things.”

Another strand of the root-and-branch review of trust activities relates to the Hay’s Dock Café, with some speculation that it may be put out to franchise. Roberts said a review was being undertaken and “when that is concluded we will take action upon it”.

It is expected Shetland’s Geopark status – UNESCO’s recognition of a globally significant geological history spanning almost three billion years – will receive greater emphasis.

Roberts said Geopark recognition offered “a fantastic opportunity for the communities of Shetland to be proud of their home”.

“It’s a UNESCO designation, it’s not an easy thing to get, and it’s not an easy thing to keep, and we have to make sure we do that.”

Having first visited the islands around 30 years ago, “the thing that impressed me most was how engaged with the wider world Shetland is – its very long history with fishing in particular and probably more recently oil and gas”.

Roberts moved to Shetland a year ago with his wife, who was originally from Shetland, and their teenage children. They had most recently been living in Wiltshire and Roberts – who has held a range of roles in commercial, public and charitable sectors – said his new position was a “great” and “exciting” opportunity.

“Inevitably I bring… a different set of experiences from the previous incumbent, because I’m a different person, and hopefully that’s going to be beneficial,” he said. “Any new chief executive – and I’m no different in that respect – the first thing you do is listen, so I’m doing a lot of listening, and that’s where my impression of the very talented people comes from.

“Energetic. Enthusiastic. They themselves have a lot of very good ideas, we just need to use the talent that we’ve got.”