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Ex-principal should return £300K payout for 'appalling abuse of public purse', committee says

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A former college principal should return the bulk of the excessive severance payment he received after a college merger, the Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee has said.

John Doyle left Coatbridge College (pictured) in October 2013, when the institution merged with Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges to form what is now New College Lanarkshire.

Mr Doyle received a payout of £304,254 but, in a report published this morning, the committee concludes that Mr Doyle should repay the amount he received in excess of the terms applied to more junior members of staff who took voluntary severance.

According to Audit Scotland, the total severance cost for Mr Doyle, five members of the senior management team and a member of staff within the principal's office was £849,842.

However, any decision to return the money would be voluntary, as the government does not have the power to order Mr Doyle to hand back his severence payment.

The public audit committee said it agreed with the auditor general’s view that John Gray, the chair of the former college, “colluded” with Mr Doyle to get the result they wanted, and withheld information from the college’s remuneration committee to achieve this. The committee will provide a copy of its report to the police.

Committee convener Paul Martin said: “What we heard during our evidence sessions demonstrated clearly that the end result in relation to John Doyle’s severance payment was engineered through a process of misinformation and disregard for existing guidelines and process.

“We found smokescreens where we should have found spotlights, distractions when we wanted directness. Behind it all lies an appalling abuse of the public purse. There simply was no business case for the former principal to receive the level of severance payment he received.”

In October, Mr Doyle told the committee that he took “great exception” to the statements made by auditor general Caroline Gardner, who said that there had been a "deliberate withholding of…information". He added that he had been in public service for almost 40 years and, until the severance issues arose, his record had been “unblemished”. The senior managers who received the payments had been “absolutely trashed when we have done nothing wrong”, he added.

In a statement, Police Scotland told TES: "Officers have discussed the matter with Audit Scotland and the matter is under review."

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