Coatbridge College chiefs under fire over pay-offs

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A GROUP of college chiefs pocketed £850,000 in pay-offs as the institution was shut down in a package which has come under fire from the country’s public spending watchdog.

The payments to John Doyle, principal at the now defunct Coatbridge College, a member of his office staff, as well as five members of the senior management team, were “significantly higher” than official guidance, Audit Scotland has warned.

It has been a shambles from start to finish

Iain Gray

SNP ministers are now being urged to address the Scottish Parliament on the issue which has been branded a “damning indictment” of the recent college reorganisation.

This has resulted in swingeing cuts to colleges across Scotland which have seen more than 100,000 student places axed.

Coatbridge College was one of three which merged to become New College Lanarkshire last year as part of a Scotland-wide drive to bring down costs across the sector.

But there was a “lack of transparency” over the payouts to senior managers – despite the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) voicing concerns over the deals.

Audit Scotland even “encountered difficulties” in securing information on severance arrangements from the college.

The watchdog found there was a “failure to meet the standards expected of public bodies in the use of public money”.

The deals were discussed by the college’s remuneration committee in January 2013, but auditors found it was unclear who developed the terms.

They included a lump sum equivalent to 21 months’ salary for senior management, while the principal was also to receive an additional three months’ severance pay.

Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “This is a damning indictment of the mess the SNP have made of the reorganisation of Scotland’s colleges. It has been a shambles from start to finish. The Public Audit Committee of the Scottish Parliament should call SNP ministers to give evidence on what they knew and when.”

The Audit Scotland report says the original deals for Coatbridge staff were in line with the packages to staff at the other colleges – Cumbernauld and Motherwell – being merged.

But it adds: “The final payments to the five members of the senior management team and the member of staff in the principal’s office included additional payments that meant the severance payments exceeded the terms agreed by the remuneration committee on October 23, 2013.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Prior to reclassification, settlement and severance payments were a matter for colleges to decide, although in doing so they were expected to comply with SFC severance and merger guidance and the terms and conditions of their SFC grant.

“The SFC chief executive is the accountable officer for public funds granted to colleges.”