Time to end gridlock at the National Trust for Scotland

George Reid's timely report into the National Trust for Scotland paints a disturbing picture of a body burdened by antiquated, cumbersome structures which had obviously ossified.

Indeed, the former Presiding Officer's report is so damning of the NTS that were it being offered to the nation to be preserved, the judgment might be it was beyond saving and it should, like some great but unsalvageable Scottish castle, be allowed to vanish gradually from the landscape at the hands of the elements.

Such a fate cannot, however, be allowed to befall this heritage body for it is responsible for some of the country's greatest treasures - everything from Culzean Castle, in Ayrshire, to Castle Fraser near Aberdeen; from the hauntingly remote island of St Kilda to the glowering magnificence of Glencoe. These places, these landscapes, must be cherished for future generations and someone, or some body, must be charged with that duty.

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One Mr Reid's discoveries was, shockingly, that the NTS was neither able to be specific about how many properties were in its care, nor could it determine the cost of maintenance of its estate and future management. This revelation, coupled with the finding that the body had a top-heavy 1920s governance structure, goes to the heart of the problem. But it also allowed Mr Reid to recommend a solution.

He is undoubtedly correct to conclude that the Trust will have to concentrate on a smaller "core portfolio" in future years and these will be, as he put it, "the great properties, the ones of unique natural significance, the ones which have a real place in community and national stories". Mr Reid's call for the number of Trustees to be reduced from the current 87 to just 15 board members also makes absolute sense.

There are, though, problems with this approach. Mr Reid pointed out that well-meaning donors have bequeathed the NTS a wide range of properties, including bungalows, sheds, woodman's huts and steadings. It seems inevitable that his conclusion - get rid of them - is the right one but given that these are often legacies from wills, the legal problems these disposals will entail will be long drawn out and problematic.

Furthermore, there is a potential problem with his assertion that the Trust should not sell off everything that does not fit into its core portfolio, for in these days of financial austerity where are the other bodies, public or private, with the resources to take on the guardianship of unwanted properties?

The report also raises the question of why it took so long for such a review. It is crystal clear that the problems of the badly-managed portfolio and the unwieldy structures were recognised for many years, yet no-one acted on them, or was able to act on them. This was a collective failure of the previous Trustees and management.

That said, it is now important to look ahead. Mr Reid was right that if the governance of the gridlocked NTS does not change, nothing else will. It is imperative this happens immediately. Preserving the nation's heritage depends on it.