Shetland Museum and Archives (c) Clemensfranz

Shetland Amenity Trust appoints chair to oversee restructure

Jonathan Knott, 25.10.2017
Staff have been warned about potential job cuts
Shetland Amenity Trust, which runs Shetland Museum and Archives on behalf of Shetland Islands Council, has appointed Ruth Mackenzie as its chair.

Mackenzie will oversee an organisational restructure that staff have been warned may involve job losses.

According to local media reports, Mackenzie was elected unopposed at the trust’s annual general meeting last week, saying that she was accepting the role with “some fear and trepidation”.

The trust has a number of other responsibilities alongside running the museum, including managing Shetland’s natural and architectural heritage and its archaeology service. Its former general manager Jimmy Moncrief died in February and the former chair stepped down due to health reasons in September.

In the same month George Sutherland, the acting chair, wrote to staff saying that the organisation’s situation was “critical” and that it would need to find savings of at least £200,000 this financial year.

Sutherland 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."

He added that the financial problems “stem from the way the trust was run in the past, with new commitments and exciting projects being added whenever opportunities presented themselves, sometimes without enough foresight and planning for the running costs.”

The organisation’s latest annual report shows that its total funds fell from £14.2m to £11.5m in the last financial year, when it ran at a deficit of £426,794. The document also says that the organisation had 90 employees. 

Earlier this month, former employee Robina Barton wrote an open letter to Shetland Charitable Trust, which grants about £1.3m a year to SAT, arguing that it should provide a cash injection. “The staff must not be made the scapegoats for the failings of others,” she wrote.

Sutherland responded with a letter to the Shetland News saying that the funding available to the trust has been “very substantially reduced” in recent years.

“At some point, those financial pressures were bound to have an impact on the organisation,” he wrote. “Because a formal process has now begun I cannot comment in detail, but I do know that our managers will be looking very carefully at how reductions are to be achieved and, in particular, at any means of minimising compulsory redundancies.

“Crucially, there will continue to be liaison with relevant trade unions, whose advice will play an important part in our decisions.”

The trust ran a profit of about £2m in both 2012-13 and 2013-14, but the next year it slipped into a deficit, which reached more than £400,000 by 2015-16.

Shetland Amenity Trust did not respond to a request for comment.

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