Cash-strapped college pays twice for principals

Mandy Exley, pictured, and Dr Elaine McMahon are both receiving a salary. Picture: Lesley Martin
Mandy Exley, pictured, and Dr Elaine McMahon are both receiving a salary. Picture: Lesley Martin
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CASH-STRAPPED Edinburgh College is paying six-figure salaries for two principals despite facing a £1.7 million financial black hole.

Mandy Exley, who handed in her notice four weeks ago, will receive an estimated £70,000 from the college – six months’ pay – for doing nothing on gardening leave.

But while Ms Exley stays away from work during her notice period, interim principal Dr Elaine McMahon is already installed and understood to be picking up the salary of £140,000 a year.

Today, college union leaders said staff were bewildered at such “squandering” of public money in a time of austerity, when further education is facing a financial crisis.

Ms Exley oversaw the merger of Stevenson, Telford and Jewel & Esk to form the Capital’s new super college in 2012 and subsequent controversial spending cuts.

When she announced on October 31 that she was stepping down, she said she planned to pursue “different business interests”.

But since then, she has been on six months’ gardening leave, on full pay.

Her salary is understood to be £140,000, meaning she will receive a sum of £70,000 from the college to cover the six-month notice period, which ends on April 31.

Union leader Mike Cowley, of the college’s EIS-FELA branch, said: “Mandy Exley’s departure from the principal’s role at Edinburgh College coincides with a period of financial crisis for the sector and our institution.

“Scottish Government cuts and, in our view, mismanagement of the college’s resources have led to a scenario in which staff are being canvassed by our executive for ideas which may contribute to the cutting of costs.

“Staff are bewildered and angry at what they see as a squandering of public money in a climate of austerity.”

News that the college is forking out for two principals comes as it fights to balance the books amid persistent funding pressures.

Managers revealed earlier this year that they would slash the institution’s headcount by 70 – with cuts split between teaching and support staff – in a bid to overcome a £1.7m deficit. They are aiming to hit a “break even” financial target next year.

A college spokeswoman defended the two-salaries arrangement.

She said: “Mandy led the college through a complex and challenging merger to achieve the highest rating possible in our recent independent Education Scotland review earlier this year.

“The first two years of merger have created firm foundations on which to build the next stage of development for Edinburgh College.

“As is normal practice for positions at this level, the board decided that Mandy’s six-month notice period should be spent on gardening leave.

“An interim principal is needed to drive forward the college’s strategic vision, until a permanent principal is appointed.

“Edinburgh College is the largest college in Scotland and one of the biggest in the UK and it is essential to have a principal and a strong executive team to cover the large remit associated with running a college of this size.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com