Don’t hand Michael Russell more power to hire and fire, urge critics

Education secretary Mike Russell
Education secretary Mike Russell
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PLANS to hand beleaguered education secretary Mike Russell new powers to hire and fire college board members must be ditched, opposition parties said yesterday.

• Opposition parties are calling for plans allowing Education Secretary Mike Russell new powers to hire and fire college boards to be ditched

• Mike Russell criticised after chairman of Stow College board ‘forced’ to quit after spat with minister

• Mike Russell and Alex Salmond had to apologise on Thursday following misleading statements over college funding

Hugh Henry, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said the SNP should curb Mr Russell’s powers to recruit and get rid of college staff at a time when he stands accused of bullying and intimidation.

Mr Russell found himself at the centre of a political storm last week amid claims of bullying and misleading Parliament.

Stow College board chairman Kirk Ramsay quit on Monday after a spat with the SNP minister, and the controversy culminated in Alex Salmond and Mr Russell both being forced to issue embarrassing apologies to Parliament on Thursday after making misleading statements about college funding.

“If Alex Salmond couldn’t do the right thing and sack him, and Mike Russell won’t do the decent thing and resign, we need at least to make sure that the education secretary’s power to bully and intimidate is curbed,” said Mr Henry.

But the call was dismissed as “petty point-scoring” by a spokesman for Mr Russell.

Ministers currently have powers to remove college board members over mismanagement, but new reforms of the sector will see this power extended to situations where a college or regional board appears at risk of failing. Mr Henry said that parliament must act to stop these changes, which are due to come into effect next year.

“The SNP government has plans to give Mike Russell the power to hire and fire college chairs and board members,” he said. “That is at the heart of his power to bully and intimidate college leaders and must not happen. The power must be dropped from the SNP’s legislative plans.”

Mr Ramsay resigned last week after Mr Russell called for him to go. The college chairman had recorded a meeting on the future of the college sector on a “smart pen” and shared this with others. Mr Ramsay insisted that 80-100 people had been present and denied behaving in a surreptitious manner.

A spokesman for Mr Russell dismissed Mr Henry’s remarks. “This is pathetic – after making ten different resignation calls for just about every member of the Scottish Cabinet, Labour can’t even stick to their latest demand for more than 24 hours,” he said.

Labour is also calling on Stewart Maxwell, the SNP convener of Holyrood’s education committee, to think again on his refusal to allow an inquiry into the education secretary’s behaviour.

Scotland’s biggest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), also waded into the row yesterday, calling for an end to the “personal spats and party political squabbling” of recent days.

Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the EIS, said: “While we want to see Scotland’s further education sector high on the news agenda, it was disappointing this week that this was based around personal spats and party-political squabbling.”

The main college grant for learning and teaching has been cut by 20 per cent and cost thousands of jobs in the past two years, Mr Flanagan said.