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Board members should be publicly-elected, not finance or law 'geeks', argue Shetland councillors

The Shetland Islands. Picture courtesy of 'Snappybex' on Flickr
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Board members should be publicly-elected, not finance or law 'geeks', argue Shetland councillors

Governance | Gareth Jones | 24 Aug 2011

Two trustees have hit out at plans for over half of the Shetland Charitable Trust's board to be selected by fellow trustees rather than publicly-elected, arguing that it doesn’t need “experts in accountancy or the finer points of law”.

In a letter to the Scotsman, Gary Robinson and Jonathan Wills responded to plans to reduce the number of trustees from 23 to 15, and to ensure that no more than seven are local councillors.

They argued that the eight non-councillor trustees should be elected from among the islands' citizenship rather than appointed by existing board members.

The letter represents the latest stage in an ongoing controversy over who controls the trust, which has an annual income of over £10m, looks after the islands’ oil revenues and is in line to receive future windfarm profits.

Previously all local councillors had an automatic right to sit on the trustee board.

"A public trust"

In the joint letter, Robinson and Wills wrote: “It might be appropriate to fill a small family trust or a single-purpose private trust with lawyers, accountants and 'human resources' geeks, but the Shetland Charitable Trust is a public trust.

“The most important attribute for a public trustee is that he or she is trusted by the community to represent their interests when spending millions of pounds of public money a year.

“Our trustees don’t need to be experts in accountancy or the finer points of charity law, although it’s handy if they are.

“They merely require intelligence, common sense and probity. If elected trustees need training, the trust can provide it. It already does.

“If there’s a shortage of some skills and experience, the trust can and does buy in professional expertise of the highest quality.”

OSCR intervention

The Trust has been ordered by OSCR to reduce links between the Council and the Trust, a judgement which trustees were forced to accept after the view was corroborated by a lawyer appointed to report on the issue.

In May, the Trust’s board voted to make the changes, but differences remain about whether the independent trustees should still be elected by and from among the public, or whether they should merely be appointed by existing trustees.

In the letter, Robinson and Wills vowed “to do everything in our power to keep control of Shetland’s community funds in the hands of elected representatives”.

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