FORMER first minister Henry McLeish’s office has claimed more than £135,000 in costs in his two years overseeing the Glasgow college region – more than all the other regions combined.
Opposition parties said that “eyebrows will be raised” at the level of expenses claimed under the watch of Mr McLeish, who was forced to resign as Labour first minister in 2001 because of irregularities over expenses claims he made for his constituency office.
However, Mr McLeish has hit back, saying that none of the money went to him personally or was signed off by him, but was mostly used to pay for staff, offices and carrying out work requested by the Scottish
The figures from the Scottish Funding Council show that it contributed about £104,000 to pay for staff, office and running costs in the region headed by Mr McLeish in the two years from 2012.
Another £31,535 was claimed by Mr McLeish’s office for national project work during the same two years.
The other regions claimed just short of £130,000 between them over the same two-year period, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The office of the Edinburgh college region head Ian McKay – whose single college is the result of a three-way merger – claimed just over £24,000 in costs and expenses in the same two-year period.
Meanwhile, Linda McTavish, who leads the Lanarkshire region – which has two colleges – claimed less than £10,000.
The size of the difference led to concerns being expressed by opposition MSPs.
Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Mary Scanlon said: “This money is taken away from funding education and training. I think it is quite alarming, considering the drastic cutbacks in further education in recent years, that a regional board chair is spending thousands of pounds that are not seen as necessary by regional chairs in other areas.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur pointed out that budget cuts meant everyone in the college sector was under pressure “to do more with less”.
“In that context, these figures will raise eyebrows, not least among staff and students across Scotland,” he said.
Mr McLeish was one of 13 regional heads to be appointed by education secretary Mike Russell in 2012 to help see through the Scottish Government’s regionalisation programme, which has used mergers to reduce the overall number of colleges.
Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the EIS teaching union, demanded that public spending was open and transparent and that all costs were justified.
But speaking to The Scotsman, Mr McLeish pointed out that he was in charge of the biggest college region and that most of the others only have one college.
He said: “None of this money went to me or was signed off by me. Most of it went straight to the three colleges in the Glasgow region or was paid directly to staff or office costs.”
He added: “Our costs were actually very modest given what we were asked to do by the Scottish Government.”
A spokeswoman for the Glasgow Regional Colleges Board also defended the costs, saying most of the money went towards paying for two staff members, not expenses. She said that funds had gone directly to the colleges from which the staff had been seconded.
Costs were incurred because of a decision to set up an office in Glasgow Caledonian University instead of in one of the three colleges for the sake of “a degree of neutrality”.