College role puts SFEFC in spotlight

July 6, 2001

The auditor-general has urged Scottish ministers to review the Scottish Further Education Funding Council's power to intervene in college affairs, writes Olga Wojtas.

Robert Black has highlighted his fears in a report on the troubled Moray College, whose continuing deficit rose to £1.9 million last year.

The Audit Scotland inquiry followed allegations of misconduct in 1998 against the then principal, Robert Chalmers. Allegations made by staff included inappropriate use of college equipment and vehicles. Dr Chalmers retired due to ill health a year after being suspended pending the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

A report by SFEFC chief executive John Sizer criticised Dr Chalmers and the board of governors. It made 24 recommendations, including action to recover funds paid to Dr Chalmers.

Mr Black said he was concerned that the college had not improved its financial management despite the Sfefc's efforts. A Sfefc review found the college's financial position had been deteriorating significantly year by year. Subsequent reviews revealed that Moray had not produced a satisfactory draft recovery plan.

Mr Black said: "This raises doubts about the effectiveness of the accountability framework within which the Sfefc and colleges operate.

"The problems at Moray College point to wider risks for the sector... It is important therefore to ensure that governance and accountability... are made increasingly robust," he said.

An Sfefc spokesperson said it had done everything in its power to ensure that the board of management addressed managerial and financial issues, but the auditor general's report acknowledged limits on these powers.

Jim Logan, Moray's principal, said nobody was happy with the rate of progress, but the magnitude of the difficulties must not be forgotten.

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