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Little bales out as crisis deepens

Inverness College was this week hoping to appoint its fifth principal or acting principal in seven years after last week's controversial sideways switch of John Little to the UHI Millennium Institute.

Professor Little quit the financially crippled college ahead of next Tuesday's high-profile visit of the Scottish Parliament's audit committee to the Highland capital.

Brian Monteith, Independent MSP and audit chairman, has kept close tabs on the college's lack of progress in meeting its recovery plans and last October issued a strong warning about the likely difficulties arising from its development plan and financial forecasts.

Mr Monteith said this week: "The committee wants to know why Inverness College has been unable to keep to its financial recovery plan. In particular, we want to examine why its financial results for 2004-05 were significantly worse than predicted. We will ask the college's management how it intends to bring the institution back into financial balance."

Poor trading results, the audit committee says, have led to a deficit of Pounds 966,793, despite the college forecasting a deficit of pound;244,000. It will also look at how the Scottish Funding Council has supported the college and monitored its performance. Roger McClure, council chief executive, is due to give evidence.

With college debts climbing back to pound;4 million from pound;3.3 million - they were pound;6.76 million in 2000 - it looks as though Professor Little is the latest addition to the management casualty list after four years trying to balance the books. He is moving across to help the UHI develop its postgraduate work.

The Educational Institute of Scotland has strongly criticised the switch at a time when some 25 lecturers are facing the axe. A similar number went last year to trim the budget but only one was compulsory sacked.

Linda Martin, branch convener, said: "It is the academic staff who are paying for the mistakes the management have been making. We pointed this out last year and we are still in the same situation." There have been two votes of no confidence in management in the past year.

Ken Mackie, board chairman, who is familiar with interrogation by MSPs, said the college would appoint an interim chief "with a view to completing the rationalisation started in 2005".

Mr Mackie added: "Some difficult decisions have already been taken in order to bring staffing ratios in line with those of comparable institutions in Scotland. This is intended to allow the college to tackle the underlying financial challenge of addressing its historical debt and to provide a sound basis for future development.

"We understand that this is a difficult time for staff. The board of management recognises their commitment and dedication in continuing to deliver high-quality teaching and services."

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