FORMER college principal John Doyle should repay the vastly inflated £304,000 severance pay he took when he left Coatbridge College, a damning report by MSPs has concluded.
The report, which has become the first Holyrood committee report to be sent to the police, found that Mr Doyle colluded with John Gray, the former chair of the college, to arrange the package.
The failings identified by the report compiled by the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee were described by committee convener Paul Martin MSP as “an appalling abuse of the public purse”.
The payment to Mr Doyle was investigated by the committee after concerns were raised by the Auditor General, Scotland’s public spending watchdog.
Mr Martin’s committee said action must be taken to ensure there was no repeat of such abuses of taxpayers’ money. It identified significant governance and oversight failings. The Scottish Government was urged to look at the operation of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which distributes money for education to Scottish institutions.
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Its report found that the SFC did not do enough to support colleges as they went through mergers and did not remind institutions of severance pay guidance.
It said Mr Doyle should repay the £304,254 and his severance pay should then be recalculated so that it was in line with the Lanarkshire voluntary severance scheme, which applied to other members of college staff.
MSPs said it was for Police Scotland to decide whether there was evidence of criminality.
The payment was made after a turbulent merger process which saw Coatbridge College become part of New College Lanarkshire.
While Mr Doyle’s payout after his departure in November 2013 amounted to 21 months’ salary, plus additional benefits, others received 13 months’ salary – in line with SFC guidelines.
Mr Martin said: “There is a compelling moral argument for John Doyle to repay the tens of thousands of pounds extra he received from the college.” The Labour MSP said £52 million was set aside to support college mergers.
“It was not provided, however, to allow already highly paid public servants to feather their own nests at the expense of their colleagues and of their students’ education,” Mr Martin said.
“What we heard during our evidence sessions demonstrated clearly that the end result in relation to John Doyle’s severance payment was engineered through a process of misinformation and disregard for existing guidelines and process.
“We found smokescreens where we should have found spotlights, distractions when we wanted directness.
“ Behind it all lies an appalling abuse of the public purse.”