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Contrite UHI admits 'errors and mistakes'

THE board of governors of the pound;100 million University of the Highlands and Islands project has unreservedly apologised for "mistakes and errors" in its handling of staff complaints against its former chief executive.

The board, which met on Monday, agreed to publish most of a hard-hitting report compiled by Kenneth MacKay, a former senior civil servant who was asked to investigate allegations that Professor Brian Duffield operated an "authoritarian" regime, leading to the departure of staff. Professor Duffield resigned, unwillingly, last month.

Mr MacKay slammed a UHI statement in June which gave the appearance of a "cover-up", reinforcing staff fears that complaints were not being taken seriously.

Later that month Dr Jack Earls, who chairs the UHI board's audit committee, was forced to reveal that he had received two written formal complaints and one oral complaint. Dr Earls investigated and told two of the complainants that Professor uffield had promised to ensure there was a "less onerous environment" for UHI staff and that these assurances should be accepted "at this stage".

The UHI board decided against publishing details of the complaints about Professor Duffield's management style because they dealt with internal disciplinary matters and because some of the material could be defamatory.

Mr MacKay said he was prepared to give the benefit of the doubt to Eric Gibson, the UHI company secretary under whose name the denial of complaints was made, that he might have been kept in the dark.

Mr MacKay recommends changes to strengthen procedures in cases where complaints are levelled against the chief executive or company secretary. The board agreed that the proposals should be implemented in full.

The board now looks forward to acquiring designated status as an HE institution, necessary to unlock funding council support, "in the shortest possible time".

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