The Scottish Office would respond "sympathetically" to any request from Inverness College for an emergency cash injection, it emerged this week. So far no approach has been made.
The pledge, in a letter to Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat candidate for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, was revealed on the eve of a union meeting yesterday (Thursday) to consider whether to give the management a vote of confidence.
The college's fight to cut costs and bring its funding into line with the rest of the FE system has led to a high-profile election tussle with the unions angered by plans to remove nearly one in six of the 300 lecturing and support posts. Three outlying centres could also be slimmed down or transferred to Inverness.
Raymond Robertson, the then education minister, told Mr Kennedy: "The college has not sought bridging finance as their short-term cash position is not critical. Should such bridging become necessary we would certainly consider the college's case sympathetically and there are precedents for this elsewhere in the sector."
Mr Kennedy says the statement underlines his contention that the proposed cuts are "ill thought out and far too hasty". He found it difficult to believe that no application for additional finance had been made to the Scottish Office since this would give the college breathing space to put a more considered restructuring plan in place.
Mr Robertson's letter confirmed that the Scottish Office's Pounds 5.6 million grant to Inverness, one of 11 colleges that received safety-net finance this year to avoid losing more than 6 per cent of its grant, was provisional. The final figure is dependent on a decision about the future funding of all colleges involved in the proposed University of the Highlands and Islands.
The difficulties facing the FE sector were highlighted again on Wednesday as Motherwell College faced disruption by the College Lecturers' Association. The union is complaining that the management has refused to rule out compulsory redundancies.
Richard Millham, the principal, said it was impossible to give a cast-iron guarantee since precise student numbers could not be predicted over the course of the year. The college has cut the number of full-time posts from 232 to 209 through voluntary redundancy and early retirement.
FE funding is currently being reviewed by a small group set up by the Scottish Office which expects to report by the autumn.