The misconduct row engulfing a Scottish college is deepening amid accusations that the board of management has failed to act meaningfully on serious complaints made against it.

Four whistleblowing claims – believed to involve issues such as governance, conduct and the treatment of staff – were received by South Lanarkshire College (SLC) between September and November last year.

College sources told The Herald that the allegations highlighted a range of concerns. These include the exclusion of staff and student members from board meetings, the withholding of relevant information, bullying and intimidation.

Meanwhile, SLC bosses said formal complaints had been lodged on matters “relating to” principal Aileen McKechnie, interim clerk to the board Brian Keegan, and Andy Kerr, a former Labour minister who has voluntarily stepped aside as board chair so investigations can take place.

Both Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan are currently suspended, with Alan Sherry recently taking over from Liz McIntyre as acting principal.

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College sources said there was no evidence that extensive interviews or other substantial action had been undertaken to address complaints against Mr Kerr. They also suggested an operation was under way to ruin the reputations of Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan.

However, SLC bosses said the four whistleblowing complaints, together with formal complaints relating to Mr Kerr, Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan, were the subject of ongoing inquiries.

John Kelly, member of the Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) national executive, warned that the latest developments were a “serious cause for concern” and should be “ringing alarm bells at the highest level of government”.

The 2021 allegations are on top of a number of complaints that were received in the latter part of 2020. These triggered the appointment of Azets – a company that specialises in audit, accounting, tax and business advice services – and an internal investigation led by the college principal. It is believed the complaints contained claims of fraud, theft and general malfeasance connected to the time before Ms McKechnie’s tenure.

HeraldScotland: South Lanarkshire College is at the centre of a misconduct row.South Lanarkshire College is at the centre of a misconduct row.

The probe resulted in the production of an audit report last year that made “a number of recommendations for improvements to internal procedures”. College bosses said they had accepted “all the recommendations in full”. However, news of the suspension of Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan emerged suddenly just weeks later.

The college has now published an action plan that details the recommendations and progress to date. Bosses have so far refused to release the audit report, but their update suggests the investigation uncovered significant weaknesses and failings. It outlines how procedures are being, or have been, enhanced in areas such as procurement, preventing bribery, carrying out supplier due diligence, accepting hospitality or gifts, HR, overseeing budgets and expenditure, stock control, inventory management, and protecting access to storerooms and other locations that are “susceptible to theft”.

Bosses were also advised to tighten processes for course and lecturer timetabling, the monitoring of student attendance, student withdrawals and booking out college vehicles. The recommendations and update contain recurring references to SLC’s construction faculty.

Mr Kelly added: “With the college now employing its second ‘interim’ principal while the principal and interim clerk to the board of management remain suspended, it is not surprising that staff have no confidence in a board that, through its failure to offer any form of transparency, encourages the view that governance at SLC is seriously flawed.”

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An SLC spokesman said: “The college received a number of complaints in September 2020 which led to the appointment of Azets. The aspects of the complaints which related to behaviours were the subject of an internal investigation led by the principal.

“Four whistleblowing complaints were received – three directly to the college – over the period September to November 2021. These complaints are the subject of the ongoing investigations. Formal complaints have been received on matters relating to the principal, interim clerk, and the chair of the board, and these are the subject of the ongoing investigations. These complaints pre-date the suspensions."