THE total cost to the taxpayer of legal action surrounding the suspension of a college principal has reached £250,000.

A freedom of information request has revealed that the Scottish Funding Council spent £70,000 investigating the actions of the board of Glasgow Clyde College.

A previous request showed the college board ran up legal costs of nearly £180,000 defending its decision to suspend principal Susan Walsh.

Mrs Walsh was suspended on full pay by former board chairman George Chalmers in February after complaints from unions of a "perceived culture" of fear and bullying.

However, after months of stalemate the entire board was sacked by Angela Constance, the Education Secretary, over concerns the board had racked up thousands of pounds of legal fees. Mrs Walsh has now been reinstated.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), attacked the large sums of money being spent on legal action at a time of cuts.

He said: "At a time when further education budgets have been greatly reduced and there have been cuts to jobs and courses throughout the sector, it is disappointing that such large sums of money had to be spent as the result of the SFC's actions against the college board."

The Scottish Funding Council review was carried out by multinational law firm DLA Piper.

A spokeswoman for the SFC said: "We carried out a review of matters relating to the governance and management of Glasgow Clyde College following the suspension of its principal.

"DLA Piper has experience of similar reviews within the college sector. It is unfortunate that we had to spend money on this."

Glasgow Clyde College ran up its own legal bill as a result of a decision to suspend its principal and progress to a full disciplinary hearing. The college also obtained legal advice after the SFC launched its review of the decision to suspend Mrs Walsh.

However, under financial rules set out by the SFC, any payment of more than £25,000 must be subject to a competitive tender. Instead, the college asked for approval from the SFC once the money had been spent, sparking concern from funding chiefs.

A spokesman for the Glasgow Clyde College board said at the time: "Most of these legal costs were incurred as a direct result of the review by SFC's solicitor DLA Piper into governance following the suspension decision."

He added that the board and the college's solicitors had advised the SFC that the review was unlawful "as the SFC were intervening in a current employment matter, which is the locus of the college".

"This has subsequently been confirmed by senior counsel opinion, which we have forwarded to the Scottish Government," he said.

"The board agreed to take part in the DLA Piper review under pressure, with assurances from the SFC that the review would be fair and thorough. "The DLA Piper Review confirmed that the chair’s decision to suspend the principal was taken under clear delegated authority in the college’s constitution and with senior legal advice. The DLA Piper report makes no recommendation for the chair or the board to be sanctioned."