Concern as Glasgow's claims eclipse the rest
Former first minister Henry McLeish's office has claimed more than pound;135,000 in costs and expenses from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in his time as lead of the Glasgow college region, TESS can reveal - more than the other regions put together.
Figures from the funding council show that it has contributed more than pound;104,000 to pay for staff, office and running costs in the region headed by Mr McLeish in the two years from 2012. An additional pound;31,535 was claimed by Mr McLeish for national project work and expenses during 2012-13 and 2013-14. The other leads claimed just under pound;130,000 between them over the same two-year period, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Glasgow is one of only three multi-college regions, overseeing three institutions merged from an original seven. Both the SFC and the Scottish government stressed that the unique demands on Glasgow meant that it required additional support.
By comparison, Edinburgh lead Ian McKay - whose single college is the result of a three-way merger - claimed just over pound;24,000 in total costs and expenses in the same two-year period. And Linda McTavish, who leads the Lanarkshire region - which now has two colleges from an original four - claimed less than pound;10,000. The disparities have prompted concerns about some of the previously hidden costs of the college regionalisation process in Scotland, which was designed to streamline provision and cut down on expensive bureaucracy.
Mary Scanlon, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman, said: "This money is taken away from funding education and training. I think it is quite alarming, considering the drastic cutbacks in further education in recent years, that a regional board chair is spending thousands of pounds that are not seen as necessary by regional chairs in other areas."
Scottish Liberal Democrat spokesman Liam McArthur said that recent budget cuts meant that everyone in the college sector was under pressure "to do more with less".
"In that context, these figures will raise eyebrows, not least among staff and students across Scotland," he said.
Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, said it was important that public spending was open and transparent and that all costs were justified. "Given the cuts that have occurred in FE, the last thing which lecturers wish to see is more money being spent on management functions rather than in teaching and learning," he said.
Mr McLeish was one of 13 regional leads to be appointed by education secretary Michael Russell in July 2012. Their brief includes planning provision and restructuring the colleges as part of the government's ongoing regionalisation process, as well as delivering cost savings. They also have national responsibilities to work on strategy and implement post-16 legislation.
At the time of their appointment, a Scottish government spokesman said the regional leads would not be paid for their work and it was unlikely the commitment would be full-time. It was announced earlier this month that eight regional college leads, including Mr McLeish, had been confirmed as chair of their regions for the next four years.
One regional lead, Hugh Hall from Forth Valley, is yet to submit any claims to the SFC.
A spokeswoman for the Glasgow Regional Colleges Board defended the costs claimed from the SFC and stressed that most of the money went towards paying for two staff members, not expenses. She said that funds had gone directly to the colleges from which the staff had been seconded.
Costs had also been incurred because of a decision to set up an office in Glasgow Caledonian University rather than in one of the three colleges, to help ensure a "degree of neutrality", the spokeswoman added. The SFC was paying the university for the accommodation, she said.
In relation to expenses, the spokeswoman said that Mr McLeish had a number of key additional responsibilities, including chairing the national leads group and the transitional board of Colleges Scotland. She added that other regions were likely also to have incurred expenses relating to staffing that were not reflected in the SFC figures.
A Scottish government spokesman said that staffing costs in Glasgow had been paid by the SFC in recognition of the complex planning involved in the regionalisation process.
"In most other regions, staff and other resources to support the regional leads [have] thus far been allocated from either college budgets or from the University of the Highlands and Islands," he added.