A ROW has broken out over the circumstances surrounding a controversial payment of £304,000 to a former college head.

John Doyle, the former principal of Coatbridge College in North Lanarkshire, was given the severance package in 2013, shortly before it merged to form New College Lanarkshire.

The deal and other payments at the college are under investigation by the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee after auditor general Caroline Gardner described the way they were made as one of the most serious failures in governance she has encountered.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) said it questioned the payments at the time, but did not act because of the significant potential legal costs, even if they had been successful.

Concerns were also raised that SFC advice that the payments were higher than expected had been deliberately withheld from the college remuneration committee.

A number of former officials have now supplied evidence to the committee in advance of public hearings, including former acting principal Margaret Rose Livingstone, who received a severance package of £120,000.

She said that, rather than seeking voluntary redundancy, Mr Doyle was “effectively made redundant” because he was “advised to leave” by the SFC and Scottish Government special adviser Roger Mullin, who is now SNP MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath.

She also said the business case for applications for voluntary severance were considered by a number of public officials including John Kemp, director of the SFC, Laurence Howells, chief executive of the SFC, and Martin McGuire, the principal of New College Lanarkshire.

However, Ms Rose Livingstone has now been accused of submitting inaccurate evidence by Mr Howells and Mr Mullin as part of their written submissions to the public audit committee.

Mr Mullin states: “I wish to set out my concern regarding the written submission by Margaret Rose Livingstone.

“In her submission she claims she can attest to the fact that the SFC and the Scottish Government adviser effectively made the principal John Doyle redundant. This is entirely without foundation.

“I can assure you that at no time was there any question of us forcing any redundancy or resignation on the principal. I can also add that at no time was any severance package ever discussed with me.”

Mr Howells said: “In Margaret Rose Livingstone’s evidence she alleges John Doyle’s post was effectively made redundant … this is not accurate.

“Ms Livingstone’s submission also says that applications for voluntary severance were considered by the SFC in the form of both Laurence Howells and John Kemp. This is not the case.

“While SFC staff did confirm that any payment from SFC would be only for amounts that complied with the agreed scheme, SFC did not approve individual applications.”

MSPs launched their investigation after seven people from the college shared payouts of £850,000 at a time when college budgets were being cut and staff laid off.The merger was part of wider move by the Scottish Government to reduce the number of colleges by creating bigger merged institutions along regional lines.