The £5 million-a-year quango supposed to promote Gaelic language and culture has been branded a “total disaster” after a devastating audit.

SNP MSP Alex Neil said the senior managers and board of Inverness-based Bord na Gaidhlig may have to be cleared out after “failing in some of the basics of any modern organisation”.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Bord na Gaidhlig criticised.Camley's Cartoon: Bord na Gaidhlig criticised.

At a meeting of Holyrood’s audit committee, fellow SNP MSP Colin Beattie said: “The board and management are either enthusiastic amateurs that are way out of their depth and unable to handle it, or they are just incompetent – it’s got to be one of the two.”

Pat Kenny, head of public sector audits for Deloitte LLP, told the committee he couldn’t remember an audit raising such “serious issues” in his decade in the job.

The committee also warned that Bord na Gaidhlig, which is funded by the SNP Government, may be in breach of employment law by only hiring Gaelic speakers.

It heard the policy had limited the pool of skilled employees, and the organisation, which has 19 staff, now needed “external expertise” if it was to turn itself around.

The MSPs were taking evidence on an Audit Scotland report into Bord na Gaidhlig last month, which exposed a catalogue of failings.

It found “ineffective leadership, inadequate workforce planning, a lack of clarity over responsibilities and poor relationships and organisational culture”. Concerns were also raised over the “structure, capacity, skills and effectiveness of the leadership team”, and a lack of strategic decisions.

There was a lack of transparency, a lack of scrutiny, “no workforce plan” and the quango even lacked a head of finance for 15 months between January 2018 and March 2019.

An “urgent” improvement plan agreed in July 2019 is unfinished. Mr Beattie questioned if the Gaelic-only hiring was “actually legal”. Auditor General Caroline Gardner said she would “need to have a look at that”, and said the policy had “consequences” for recruitment.

Mr Neil said he was very supportive of Bord na Gaidhlig in principle, but the organisation appeared to be a “total disaster”, with no effective leadership “whatsoever”.

He could not understand why an organisation with so few staff paid its chief executive £90,000 and its senior managers from £65,000 to £85,000.

He told the auditors giving evidence: “Everything you say reduces my level of confidence in this organisation even more.

“I think the work they are supposed to be doing is vital for the cultural and linguistic future of our country, so they are badly letting down people.

“If they can’t get their act together, they should go, both the senior management team and the board. They’re getting paid well enough.”

He also said it was “totally unacceptable” that Bord na Gaidhlig held all committee and board meetings in private session.

Mr Kenny said he had “serious concerns” the organisation could fix itself and it had still not decided whether to bring in outside help six months after he recommended it.

Mr Neil suggested the quango had a “bunker mentality” and Mr Kenny said he “totally agreed”.

A Bord na Gaidhlig spokesperson said it had been changing since its own audit in early 2019.

“The Bord na Gaidhlig board recognised the need to develop new ways of working and embarked on a comprehensive programme of change. This programme is well underway, with more than 60 per cent of the actions recommended achieved within four months, and the remainder on target to be completed by the end of this financial year.”

The Scottish Government said: “We continue to support the Bord and work closely with the Chair, Chief Executive and senior management as they make progress with the Deloitte Improvement Plan. “All matters relating to employment are for the Bord and it is for the Bord to make appointments on such terms and conditions it determines appropriate.”