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'We did nothing wrong,' says principal in £840k college payout row

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A former college principal whose senior management team received hundreds of thousands of pounds in severance payments has insisted that he did “nothing wrong” in the process that led to the payout.

John Doyle left Coatbridge College in October 2013 when it merged with Cumbernauld and Motherwell colleges to form what is now New College Lanarkshire. The move resulted in the departure of a number of Coatbridge College staff, at a total cost of £1.7 million. 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 alone had been £849,842.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament's Public Audit Committee in September, auditor general Caroline Gardner said the severance payments for senior staff were “significantly higher” than both those recommended by the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council, and those received by staff at the other former colleges which merged to form New College Lanarkshire.

She also said that there was “no evidence that the college’s remuneration committee had access to the information and advice that it needed to fulfil its responsibilities”, adding: “As far as I am able to draw a conclusion from the evidence, it was a deliberate withholding of the information.”

Speaking today, Mr Doyle said he took “great exception” to the statements made by the auditor general. 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.

Mr Doyle said the severance payments had been based on what he called the “federation action plan”, and he had assumed this would apply to all staff. A new scheme had then been published by New College Lanarkshire. Once he learned of the existence of two different systems, and considering the “clear conflict of interest I was in”, Mr Doyle said he brought in an an independent legal team to ensure “continued transparency and openness”.

Former Coatbridge College chair John Gray told the committee that he “categorically” had not withheld information from any committees.

Also speaking this morning, Laurence Howells, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said he had “clearly been concerned about the arrangements” for the payments at Coatbridge College.

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