A former college principal who received a £304,000 payoff against official guidelines has been sent a letter from government lawyers urging him to pay some of the money back.
The Scottish Funding Council, a Scottish Government body that distributes public funds to colleges and universities, said its legal advisers have contacted former Coatbridge College principal John Doyle seeking a partial rebate of the cash.
Mr Doyle was accused by MSPs and former colleagues of deliberately withholding information from the college to “feather his own nest” with public funds during severance talks ahead of a merger which led to the creation of New College Lanarkshire.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “appalled” by the situation, which Auditor General Caroline Gardner called one of the most serious failures in governance that she has ever encountered.
In a new letter to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, the SFC said it “used all the powers we had available at the time to prevent the board giving favourable treatment to Mr Doyle”.
John Kemp, SFC director of access, skills and outcome agreements, said: “We are discussing with New College Lanarkshire, as the successor body to Coatbridge College and the body to which Mr Doyle would repay the money, the options for recovery of the severance payment.
“Our legal advisers have written to Mr Doyle on behalf of the SFC and New College Lanarkshire asking him to return the portion of the severance payment over and above what would have been paid in the Lanarkshire scheme.”
Mr Doyle’s payout after his departure in November 2013 amounted to 21 months’ salary, plus additional benefits.
Others received 13 months’ salary - in line with Scottish Funding Council (SFC) guidelines.
The SFC has been in discussions with Education Secretary Angela Constance about measures to minimise the risk of similar governance failures.
It acknowledged that it should have made its guidance on severance payments “more explicitly available to all board members”.
Mr Kemp added: “The events at Coatbridge College were exceptional and demonstrated a level of deliberate and sustained effort to act in a way that was contrary to our guidance and advice.
“In future we will ensure that processes and guidance are written or amended with these exceptional circumstances in mind.”
Mr Doyle has steadfastly maintained that he has done nothing wrong, that the payoff was agreed by the college board in full knowledge of the SFC guidelines, and that he has no reason to pay the money back.