Taxpayers foot £46m bill for college pay-offs

Ronnie Knox received a six-figure package when North Glasgow College was merged with two others. Picture: Jamie Forbes
Ronnie Knox received a six-figure package when North Glasgow College was merged with two others. Picture: Jamie Forbes
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ALMOST £50 million of taxpayers money has been spent on paying-off college staff in Scotland with senior management receiving six-figure packages.

The amount of public money given to departing college staff since 2011 has been revealed in a new report, which also highlights a dramatic reduction in student numbers.

A document to be presented to Holyrood this week reveals that £46.6 million was spent on voluntary severance packages for 1,307 college employees between 2011/12 and 2013/14. Of that total, £7.6 million was spent on getting rid of 69 senior members of staff – an average of more than £110,000 each.

The report was compiled by Audit Scotland, the country’s public spending watchdog, for the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee and will be scrutinised by MSPs on Wednesday.

Audit Scotland also looked at the number of students studying in Scotland’s further education sector.

The watchdog found the number of students dropped from 379,251 in 2007/08 to 238,239 in 2013/14 – a fall of 141,012.

The Scottish Government’s handling of college education has been a controversial issue ever since the SNP came to power, with their opponents accusing ministers of neglecting colleges.

The figures include a controversial pay-off of more than £310,000 given to the former principal of North Glasgow College Ronnie Knox.

Last year concerns were expressed about the size of the deal, which was part of a £471,000 package offered to Knox and the vice-principal John Gray following the college’s merger with two other institutions to form Glasgow Kelvin College.

Yesterday the Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said: “The drop in the number of full and part time students in Further Education in Scotland is nothing short of scandalous. It has happened on the SNP’s watch over their eight years in office, and it is a direct result of the SNP’s mishandling of education in Scotland.

“Taxpayers will be astonished to discover that while student numbers have plummeted, they have paid out £50m in pay-offs, with some individual sums as high as £300,000. This is the SNP’s record in further education - profligacy built on incompetence. Instead of building a system which provides skills for a new generation, we have seen a massive slump in student numbers and six-figure golden handshakes.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Headcount alone does not accurately reflect the value a college course delivers as it shows no distinction between a very short recreational course, for example under 10 hours, with full time study that will lead to a qualification or further study.

“On severance, at the time these payments were agreed, decisions about voluntary severance were entirely a matter for colleges. Our reforms have enhanced board transparency and accountability and severance payments must now be approved by the Scottish Funding Council.”