FUNDING bosses have come under pressure to block an “outrageous” pay increase for a college official at a time of austerity for public sector workers such as nurses and teachers.

MSPs have criticised the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) for failing to prevent the rise, agreed by Glasgow Colleges’ Regional Board (GCRB) last week.

Under the move, revealed by The Herald, the salary of the board’s executive director Robin Ashton will increase from £81,000 to £95,000 - a 17 per cent hike.

Loading article content

The pay rise has been defended by STUC chief executive Grahame Smith - the interim chair of the GCRB - who said the post of executive director carried “huge responsibility”.

But at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee it was revealed that the board were told in advance that both the SFC and the Scottish Government did not think such an increase was justified.

The committee heard that SFC interim chief executive Dr John Kemp had decided not to use his power to step in over the decision because such a move should only happen in extreme circumstances.

Dr Kemp said he had instead written to Mr Smith making his views clear and was therefore “disappointed” about the subsequent decision that was reached.

He said: “My view was that I had confidence in the governance of GCRB and I have to say my anticipation was that, after having seen my letter and considered the facts, it was unlikely they would take the decision to increase the salary. This is a decision that I don’t agree with, but it was properly taken.”

SNP MSP Alex Neil pressed Dr Kemp on whether he could still step in to prevent the rise, which he described as “absolutely beyond belief” and “outrageous”.

He said: “Here we are still in a year when we’re telling nurses that they get one per cent and we’re talking about a nearly 20 per cent rise for somebody who is already on a very substantial salary which you clearly have indicated that you don’t agree with. Why are you not using your powers?

“The public are really getting pretty fed up and the people, the nurses for example, who are paid about one third of this chief executive’s current salary in some cases, their taxes are funding these increases.

“Why are you not using your powers to set an example? If you don’t use your powers you’re sending out the wrong message to the rest of the college sector about these excessive pay rises.”

In response, Dr Kemp said he would consider whether the next option was to use the power to intervene or whether it was appropriate to

open further dialogue with GCRB.

Paul Johnston, the Scottish Government’s director general of education, told the committee the Scottish Government was concerned about bodies that were awarding pay increases “well in excess of what would be expected in terms of public sector arrangements”.

He said he understood “the matter is not yet fully concluded” and further discussions would be held with the SFC about the “most appropriate way to proceed”.

In a statement issued after the committee meeting, GCRB said: “We would be happy to provide the public audit committee with the full information considered by its board and which members of the committee did not have available to them when they raised matters in the session this morning.”

The regional body was set up to help run the city’s three colleges - City of Glasgow, Clyde and Glasgow Kelvin - following a series of mergers across Scotland.

The situation is unusual because the city has three colleges with their own principals and boards in addition to the regional body.