Formal complaint lodged against SQA board by unions' leader

25th June 2010 at 01:00
The leader of Scotland's trade unions has lodged a formal complaint with ministers over the latest appointments to the board of the exams body.

The leader of Scotland's trade unions has lodged a formal complaint with ministers over the latest appointments to the board of the exams body.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, has written to Keith Brown, the Minister for Skills and Lifelong Learning, claiming he has failed to appoint a board member who can speak up on behalf of "employee interests" - a requirement under the Scottish Qualifications Authority Act 2002.

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government announced the appointment of three new SQA board members, one of whom, Carole Wilkinson, was identified as the "employee interests" appointee.

But Mr Smith argues that, while Ms Wilkinson may have the competence, background and experience to serve as an SQA board member, there is no evidence that she has the specific attributes which would qualify her to represent the interests of SQA employees.

The complaint marks the second row in 18 months over SQA board appointments. Last year, the Government was criticised for appointing an SNP political activist - Graham Houston, the nationalist leader of Stirling Council - as the SQA chair.

Ms Wilkinson's background is in social services, having been director of social work in Falkirk, the first chief executive of the Scottish Social Services Council, and chair of the group which developed the first workforce strategy for social services in Scotland. She also served as president of the Association of Directors of Social Work in 2001.

"Carole brings to the board an understanding of the HR issues faced by a large organisation and an ability to promote successful employee relations to ensure employees' interests are taken fully into account," said the Government when it announced her appointment.

But Mr Smith argues that the board member representing "employees' interests" requires to have special knowledge of them, and that Ms Wilkinson falls short of this.

In the past, the person appointed in that capacity has been an SQA employee. Other public bodies with a similar "employees' interests" requirement have appointed trade unionists.

Ms Wilkinson, however, is a former social worker who moved into senior management and has not been a practising human resources practitioner, points out Mr Smith.

The SQA's senior management appreciated the "partnership working arrangements" with unions which had been facilitated by previous employees' interests board members, he added.

The 2002 SQA Act was passed in the wake of the 2000 exams debacle, which raised issues about the organisation's governance. Earlier this year, the Government announced that staff based in the SQA's Dalkeith office were to be relocated to new premises in Midlothian, allaying fears that the SQA's two centres might be co-located in Glasgow.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "This appointment was made following an open and transparent process, regulated by an independent assessor of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments in Scotland".

She added that Ms Wilkinson would be an excellent member of the SQA board in her role "to help promote successful employee relations and ensure that employees' interests are taken fully into account".

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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