Troubled college is ‘a financial mess’

Edinburgh College.
Edinburgh College.
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College leaders have been accused of passing the buck on responsibility for financial failings at struggling Edinburgh College.

Top staff blamed former managerial mistakes for financial problems at the institution when they appeared before Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee.

MSPs described the situation as “a total failure”, “a financial mess” and “unsatisfactory” during the evidence session.

An Audit Scotland report published in March warned the college faced “significant financial challenges” after failing to meet its targets for learning activity.

In autumn 2015, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) said it intended to claw back £800,000 after concluding the college had breached new rules on how much extra learning for enrolled students - known as additionality - it could claim funding for.

SNP MSP Alex Neil said: “You’re all sitting passing the buck, who at the end of the day should have picked this up when it should have been picked up and done something about it?”

SFC interim chief executive John Kemp said the guidance, issued in July 2014, was clear and the college had been told about the changes in several meetings.

MSPs heard the guidance would have gone to the two vice-principals then responsible for the college’s curriculum, but internal auditors were not aware of a problem until summer 2015.

Principal and chief executive Annette Bruton, who took up her post in May 2015, said the new guidance should have been cross-checked against the curriculum but that was not done thoroughly enough.

She said: “There was certainly evidence of the (SFC) outcome agreement manager having had discussions with several different people in the executive team about reducing that additionality over time and some of that had been done, but not sufficient to meet the guidelines that were issued in 2014.”

Ms Bruton added: “There were management mistakes made by the college and I think we need to be clear about that, that actually the college should have picked up that guidance and they should have taken action.”

MSPs heard the college had since changed its management structure and there had been staff changes at the top level.

Alan Williamson, former finance director and now chief operating officer at Edinburgh College, said he did not take any personal responsibility for the situation, but added: “Given the outcome, with hindsight, perhaps I should have been questioning more.”

Last month it emerged lecturers at Edinburgh College were to ballot for a strike.