Former principal in pay row ‘talking nonsense’

John Doyle giving evidence at Holyrood's 'Audit Committee looking at Coatbridge college. Picture: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate
John Doyle giving evidence at Holyrood's 'Audit Committee looking at Coatbridge college. Picture: Scottish Parliamentary Corporate
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A FORMER college principal who claimed his six-figure pay-off was paid with private funds and approved by a committee who knew they were breaching official guidelines was talking “absolute nonsense”, MSPs have been told.

John Doyle, the £116,000-a-year former principal of Coatbridge College who received a 21-month pay-off, said last week said it was not funded with taxpayers’ money and he will not pay it back.

But members of the Coatbridge College remuneration committee told Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee it came from public funds which would have otherwise been used to help students and that they were not informed of Scottish Funding Council (SFC) guidance that no member of staff should receive more than a 12-month pay-off.

Mr Doyle last week accused Scotland’s top public spending watchdog of making an “inaccurate and vexatious” claim that he deliberately withheld the guidance, insisting it was available on the college intranet.

He stood down as principal when the college was merged into New College Lanarkshire following a protracted negotiation which almost saw Coatbridge withdraw.

Committee member Thomas Keenan said he felt “misled” and the pay-off could have been “a wrecking ball” for the merger.

He said union reps went “absolutely ballistic” when they heard Mr Doyle was receiving a bigger pay-off than other staff.

He added it was “absolute nonsense” to claim college members should have consulted the intranet for guidance and fellow committee member Ralph Gunn said guidance does appear to have been withheld.

Mr Keenan said he was “very, very concerned that we had been misled” and he was “more than upset” when he learned of the 21-month payoff.

“I took it up with the board chair because I was aware that (it) had significant implications for the merger, because it was a wrecking ball for the merger that six staff out of 1,000 could potentially get (such) a severance scheme.”

Mr Keenan added: “Trade union representatives were at the meeting and when they heard that senior staff at Coatbridge College had a different severance scheme to them they went absolutely ballistic, and I can’t say I blame them.

“I was sitting there as a board member knowing that I had never seen this, never considered it to be a part of a severance scheme.”

Mr Gunn said: “If I had guidance in front of me that said something markedly different from what we eventually decided, I would not have made the decision we did make.”

Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said: “The Auditor General talks about withholding information. Is that a fair assessment of the situation?”

Mr Gunn said: “With hindsight, yes, but at the time we didn’t know there was anything like that.”

Mr Keenan said: “If Mr Doyle seriously thinks that to advise committees appropriately that we should go to the intranet, then quite simply that is absolute nonsense.”

Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said: “It was suggested to us last week that there was additional resources to be used in this package that would come from commercial income that the college generated.

“If the money to pay for Mr Doyle’s package did not come from the SFC, or only came from the SFC up to a certain level, and did not come from commercial income or any other way, it must have come from college resources which would normally pay for things that go on in classrooms to help the students.”

Committee member Paul Gilliver said: “My view of the income was it went into the common reserve which was applied to the charitable objectives of the college. It came from college resources.”