SENIOR staff at Greenock’s James Watt College received more than £1 million in severance payments when it merged with two other colleges, it has emerged.
The payments were criticised today by Greenock and Inverclyde MSP Duncan McNeil, who said they were made at a time when frontline workers were being made redundant and courses were being cut.
The payments were given between 2011 and 2013 when James Watt was being joined up with Clydebank and Reid Kerr colleges to form West College Scotland.
Mr McNeil said: “I am astounded at the amount of money that was paid out. People should be compensated if they lose their jobs, but I will raise questions about whether these payments were appropriate or value for money.” He intends to question the Scottish Government, which merged the colleges, as well as the Scottish Funding Council, which distributes public money to colleges on the government’s behalf.
Mr McNeil said: “We need to be assured when redundancies are announced that payouts are validated and value for money, particularly when budgets are being cut and frontline staff are losing jobs and students are having to travel farther to get the courses they want.” The payments were made during a period when unions said they were ‘incensed’ at a deal given to James Watt principal Sue Pinder.
It was announced in August 2012 that her last day at the college would be at the end of that year, but she would continue as principal until June 2013 on full pay.
This was described as ‘gardening leave’ by the college, who said she was in ‘a support and advisory capacity’ during the merger.
The news that just over £1m was paid out at James Watt College was defended by the SFC, which said college mergers were saving millions of pounds.
Chief executive Laurence Howells said: “In the last two years we’ve made great progress towards a more modern and efficient college system in Scotland.
“Colleges are now better able to provide life-changing opportunities for students and to support businesses and communities.
“Young people leaving school this summer can look forward to an even more rewarding time at college.” He added: “We estimate around £50 million of efficiencies each year in real terms as a result of this programme of reform.” A Scottish Government spokesperson said there would also be substantial benefits for students of greater choice, closer links to employers and a greater role in the economic success of the local region.
She said: “The severance packages awarded to senior staff are a matter for the relevant college boards, and we have consistently made clear our expectation that severance payments of this kind should achieve value for public expenditure.
“Our recent reforms of college governance will enhance the future transparency and accountability of college boards.”