Scotland politics

Government lawyers ask ex-Coatbridge College boss to return pay-off

John Doyle
Image caption John Doyle told the committee his reputation had been unfairly "trashed"

A former college principal who received a £304,000 pay-off against official guidelines has been asked by government lawyers to pay some of the money back.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) confirmed its legal team had contacted John Doyle seeking a partial refund.

Mr Doyle and six other staff shared £850,000 in pay-offs when Coatbridge College merged with two other colleges.

He has maintained he did nothing wrong and that he has no reason to pay the money back.

Mr Doyle has been accused by MSPs of withholding information from the college to "feather his own nest" from public funds.

Image copyright Google
Image caption Coatbridge College became part of New College Lanarkshire under the merger

Mr Doyle, who earned £116,000 a year by the end of his service, was given:

  • A 21-month lump sum
  • Three months for completing the merger
  • A further six months' pay in lieu of notice, totalling 30 months' pay

In June, the Auditor General Caroline Gardner issued a highly-critical report of the severance deals paid out by the college, which she said were overly-generous.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was "appalled" by the situation.

In a new letter to Holyrood's Public Audit Committee, the SFC said it "used all the powers we had available at the time to prevent the board giving favourable treatment to Mr Doyle".

John Kemp, SFC director of access, skills and outcome agreements, said: "We are discussing with New College Lanarkshire, as the successor body to Coatbridge College and the body to which Mr Doyle would repay the money, the options for recovery of the severance payment.

"Our legal advisers have written to Mr Doyle on behalf of the SFC and New College Lanarkshire asking him to return the portion of the severance payment over and above what would have been paid in the Lanarkshire scheme."

'Deliberate act'

Mr Doyle's payout after his departure in November 2013 amounted to 21 months' salary, plus additional benefits.

Others received 13 months' salary - in line with SFC guidelines.

The SFC has been in discussions with Education Secretary Angela Constance about measures to minimise the risk of similar governance failures.

It acknowledged it should have made its guidance on severance payments "more explicitly available to all board members".

Mr Kemp added: "The events at Coatbridge College were exceptional and demonstrated a level of deliberate and sustained effort to act in a way that was contrary to our guidance and advice.

"In future we will ensure that processes and guidance are written or amended with these exceptional circumstances in mind."

Elaine Smith, the Labour MSP for Coatbridge and Chryston, said Mr Doyle had "a moral obligation to return the chunk of his pay-off which was in excess of college guidelines".

She added: "To do otherwise would be a slap in the face to staff across the sector."

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