Leaders: End the college ‘sweetheart’ deals

Redundancy is a blow and victims deserve recompense but two-and-a-half years’ pay is beyond what could be termed acceptable
Coatbridge College paid out way some have described as "overly generous" severance deals. Picture: Creative CommonsCoatbridge College paid out way some have described as "overly generous" severance deals. Picture: Creative Commons
Coatbridge College paid out way some have described as "overly generous" severance deals. Picture: Creative Commons

However, what we do now know is that the £850,000 pay-off to senior staff at one college is not an isolated case, and similar deals have been struck elsewhere.

The Scottish Funding Council has admitted other pay-offs have been agreed, but argued these fell within their guidelines.

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However, public spending watchdog Audit Scotland has previously described the Coatbridge deal, which involved seven members of staff, as “significantly higher” than official guidance.

There was a “lack of transparency” over the payouts, and 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 wider situation could be even worse. MSPs have ordered a report, and it is possible this could show that this kind of practice is endemic across Scottish further education.

Labour has already described Coatbridge as a “damning indictment of the mess the SNP have made of the reorganisation of Scotland’s colleges”.

Aside from any legal wrangle, there is a wider point of concern here. The extent of these pay-offs will cause resentment at a time when austerity continues to bite and public sector cuts come in waves.

No-one has a job for life any longer. How many of the council staff facing the axe in Edinburgh and North Lanarkshire will pick up a 21-month lump sum, topped up by a three-month bonus, and six months’ notice – like Coatbridge College principal John Doyle, who received a total of £304,000?

If they are lucky, they might get three months’ pay. And if, as has been suggested, the problem is not confined to Coatbridge, then it appears that these kind of deals were deemed to be acceptable. That is a state of affairs which will leave many observers angry.

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No-one doubts that being made redundant is a blow, often a bitter one at that, and an individual should of course be recompensed with what they are entitled to receive.

However, a two-and-half-year pay-off from public funding goes way beyond what most would consider an acceptable arrangement.

Mr Doyle said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to apologise for something I’ve not done.”

But the extent of the pay-offs plays badly with taxpayers’ money when the purpose of the college merger process was to make savings for the public purse. It will obviously do this in the long term, but who expected to pay such a heavy price for it in the short term?

The Coatbridge case may in fact have opened a can of worms, but we can at least expect the report to MSPs will lead to any pay-offs being brought back into realistic territory, and reached by a means which is beyond dispute.

Few would expect the cash to be recouped – but all would hope that the spotlight falling on this situation means a more realistic framework for severance deals can be agreed for the future.

A9 safety cameras reap rewards

The news that average speed cameras on the A9 have contributed to the road’s first summer free of deaths for almost a quarter of a century is to be warmly welcomed.

Faced with a mounting number of fatal crashes and with a decade before the Perth-Inverness dualling was completed, ministers had to act and opted to deploy the camera system.

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That provoked an uproar among drivers and politicians, with claims that the cameras would do nothing to make the road safer.

After only a year’s operation, it’s too early to be definitive, but the signs are looking good that the move has made a positive difference.

Only 15 motorists a day now exceed the speed limit to such an extent they face prosecution, and the reduction in speeds has largely made for a much more pleasant driving experience.

What must be remembered is that the cameras are simply enforcing the law, and far from being an SNP cash cow, fines from speeding drivers go straight to the UK Treasury.

However, the key point now is that even if casualty figures keep coming down, the cameras remain only a stop-gap measure, as they were originally intended.

The £3 billion cost of completing the 80 miles of dual carriageway might seem huge, but it is a very necessary improvement.

Along with much-needed upgrading of the parallel railway line, a better road link between the Central Belt and the Highland capital is vital not just on safety grounds, but to help Scotland’s prosperity spread north.

Yes, the dualling scheme was justified primarily on safety grounds, but it will also help future proof one of our major transport corridors for the country’s development. We must not be dissuaded from that task.