EDUCATION secretary Michael Russell has been accused of presiding over a culture of “secrecy and bullying” after he asked a college boss to consider his position following a dispute over a secret recording of a meeting.
Mr Russell reprimanded the chairman of Glasgow’s Stow College, Kirk Ramsay, after a private conversation at a summit of college bosses about controversial college reforms was recorded.
Mr Ramsay is said to have distributed a recording of discussions about the sector reforms, which have led to a wave of mergers across the country.
The SNP minister told Mr Ramsay his behaviour was “inconsistent” with the role of the chair of a publicly-funded college, and urged him to “consider his position”.
However, Labour’s college spokesman, Neil Findlay, claimed that Mr Russell wanted to cover up information about the shake-up of colleges.
Critics of the government’s changes say the reforms are too tough, with cuts to teaching budgets of £73 million, a reduction in student numbers and more than 1,000 job losses.
Mr Russell has issued a letter to others who were in attendance at the meeting with Mr Ramsay expressing his concerns and informing them that their comments were recorded.
Mr Findlay suggested the minister was attempting to intimidate those critical of government policy on colleges.
He said: “This is just another example of the culture of secrecy and bullying that permeates this SNP government. Surely a discussion about the future of Scottish colleges deserves to be heard in public? What has Mike Russell got to hide?
“It is becoming almost impossible to get the true facts about Scottish education from Mike Russell. For example, he originally said that waiting lists were a “false concept”.
“But only a few days later he was forced to announce an audit of waiting lists.
“I know that many staff in the further education sector are too frightened to speak out about the imposed reorganisation and budget cuts. This is not a healthy situation for Scottish education; we desperately need more openness and transparency.”
Mr Ramsay defended his decision to record the behind closed doors meeting with the minister, saying he was “surprised that Mr Russell had taken such exception to this, given his role as a public servant and his position in introducing the fundamental reforms”.
He said: “I did explain that I had shared the recording with a small number of people directly involved in the implementation of the college reforms to help ensure their clarity of what he wished to develop. No distribution took place beyond that limited group, nor was that ever intended.”
However, a spokesman for Mr Russell insisted that Mr Ramsay’s conduct “falls well short of that expected” from the chair of a publicly funded college.
The spokesman said: “Mr Ramsay did not request permission to record any of the participants in the meeting and used a device which was not obviously a recording device.
“This fact was discovered by accident some weeks after the event when he distributed his secret recording to others and without notifying any of the participants.”