Back-room costs may hurt student funding

Critics fear effect of Henry McLeish's `extravagant' expenses

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The cost of running the body in charge of colleges in Glasgow - led by former first minister Henry McLeish - has come under fire amid fears that student places may be put at risk to meet the bill.

Figures from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) reveal that the regional body, which oversees three colleges, will cost up to pound;89,000 to run over the months between September and December of this year.

The figures, which include spending on staff, recruitment, office and administration costs, have been criticised by senior college staff and student representatives, who fear that funds will be diverted from front-line services.

By comparison, just pound;1,500 has been budgeted to pay for the travel and subsistence costs of Linda McTavish, who heads Lanarkshire college region, one of only two other multi-college regions, until 1 October.

The revelation about spending in Glasgow comes after concerns were raised earlier this year that the office run by Mr McLeish had claimed more than pound;135,000 in costs and expenses over 2012-13 and 2013-14 - more than all the other Scottish regions combined.

In Glasgow, the board oversees strategy at three colleges: Glasgow Kelvin, Glasgow Clyde and City of Glasgow. The SFC has covered the running costs so far but the burden will be passed on to colleges from January. However, they will receive no extra funding.

A senior staff member at one of the colleges expressed fears that the money would be taken away from teaching budgets. "The colleges have already received their funding allocation for this year and have decided how to spend that," the source said.

"They will have no choice but to take this out of funding for front-line services, such as student places."

Colleges across Scotland have experienced significant budget cuts in recent years, from pound;580 million in 2010 to pound;522 million in 2013 and the current academic year.

The reorganisation of the sector across Scotland has resulted in a series of college mergers and was supposed to bring efficiency savings and better provision for students.

But NUS Scotland president Gordon Maloney said the costs being incurred in Glasgow appeared to be "quite extravagant".

"Colleges have seen cuts to their budgets of millions of pounds in recent years," he said. "While that's bad enough, and something that we'll continue to campaign against, it's made even worse when the money that's left over is spent on management, not students or lecturers."

Mr Maloney said the Glasgow board needed to question "the value this much money will provide, when every available penny of funding for colleges should be spent ensuring the student experience is protected and improved".

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said: "Every effort has to be made to minimise the running costs of any new bureaucratic structure. College staff and student support have to be protected."

Glasgow is one of three multi-college regions in Scotland created by the national reorganisation, but is the only one in which a new governing body had to be established.

In Lanarkshire, which oversees two colleges, costs have been kept down by using existing facilities and giving the board of the newly created New College Lanarkshire a dual function as the regional board. Meanwhile, in the Highlands and Islands region, the University of the Highlands and Islands is governing FE provision with no additional funding from the SFC.

But in Glasgow, Mr McLeish has established a separate office, renting accommodation away from the three college campuses and employing his own staff.

The funding council figures show that pound;41,000 has been committed to the board for staff salaries between September and December this year, with an additional pound;12,000 in recruitment expenses. Expenditure on rent, running costs, travel and subsistence were yet to be finalised, but had been budgeted for up to pound;36,000.

Mr McLeish refused to comment on the costs, saying they were an issue for the funding council.

A spokesman for the SFC said: "The demands of regionalisation in multi-college regions are such that those regions require additional support and resource. In Glasgow - the only multi-college region where the regional strategic body will not be an existing institution - these needs are greater."

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