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Trust denies discrimination against former chief executive

This news post is about 3 years old

Controversy stems from former CEO allegedly not disclosing involvement in church

Scotland’s largest independent grant-giving trust is denying claims of religious discrimination by a former chief executive.

Kenneth Ferguson, who headed-up the Robertson Trust from 2011 until earlier this year, is taking his case to an industrial tribunal claiming religious bias as the reason for his dismissal.

The trust, which is financed by profits from the Edrington whisky group, gives out around £20 million a year to Scots charities, refutes any claim that it discriminated against the former chief executive on religious, or any other, grounds, saying he was sacked on issues related to "underperformance".

Problems arose from a funding arrangement made with Stirling Free Church, where Ferguson is an elder, after it emerged that a £6,500-a-year contract with the trust for the use of its premises in the Barracks Conference Centre for its Sunday services, had been made during Ferguson's tenure.

Ferguson said he declared involvement in the church on the trust’s register of interests and exonerated himself from all negotiations about the rental.

However, Ferguson claims that the trust’s chair Shonaig Macpherson objected to the church’s use of the premises, reportedly because “they don’t believe in same-sex marriage” and this led to his dismissal.

Ferguson was disciplined earlier this year by the trust for not disclosing the conflict of interest but the organisation says it did not dismiss him for this.

Gerry McLaughlin, vice chair of the Robertson Trust, said the claim that the organisation, or members of its board, would discriminate against anyone based on religion or for any other reason, is completely unfounded.    

He said: “The Robertson Trust is one of Scotland’s oldest and leading funders, supporting charities and communities across the country to help those facing poverty and disadvantage.    

“As a member of the Christian faith myself, I am disappointed at the claim that the trust’s decision to dismiss the former chief executive was based on religious grounds when in fact the decision was taken based on continued, and documented, underperformance.    

“The failure to disclose a conflict of interest when applying trust resources and offering heavily subsidised rates to the Stirling Free Church, of which he is an elder, led to disciplinary action against the then chief executive resulting in a final written warning, but not his dismissal.     

“The Robertson Trust’s funding policy clearly states that we do not fund projects and activities which involve the promotion of political or religious beliefs. This has been the case for decades.”    

The trust was established in 1961 by three sisters, Elspeth, Agnes and Ethel Robertson. They donated their shares in the family business for the charitable purposes of the trust which today gives about £20m annually to good causes.

Its income is primarily derived from its ownership of Edrington Group, the spirits company which makes The Macallan single malt whisky and Famous Grouse.

Ferguson’s case, which is being backed by the Christian Institute, will be heard at Glasgow Employment Tribunal Service from Monday 14 to Thursday 17 December.