A senior college figure has written to Nicola Sturgeon to accuse the Education Secretary and key national agencies of failing to intervene over alleged governance breaches.

In a letter to the First Minister, the author says Shirley-Anne Somerville and organisations such as the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) were approached regarding serious issues at South Lanarkshire College (SLC).

But the highly detailed missive, which has been seen by The Herald, warns no effective improvement action was taken and stresses that fundamental failures are continuing. It also urges Ms Sturgeon to authorise immediate government involvement.

Kenny MacAskill, Alba Party MP for East Lothian and a former Scottish justice secretary, said it was clear there was something “rotten” at the heart of SLC which would need to be “rooted out”. SLC has insisted its corporate governance arrangements are “robust”.

The latest developments come after SLC principal Aileen McKechnie and Brian Keegan, interim clerk to the board of management, were suspended during an extraordinary meeting in November last year.

SLC said the decision was reached so complaints against Ms McKechnie, Mr Keegan and board chair Andy Kerr could be investigated. Mr Kerr, a former Labour minister, voluntarily stepped aside from his role for the duration of the inquiries, which are ongoing.

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Ms McKechnie had previously commissioned a forensic investigation into claims of theft and malfeasance after they were received in September 2020. The Herald revealed last month how the allegations included complaints that staff had “personally benefited” from the use of college materials and time to “build, model and repair” their homes and other properties.

She was also instrumental in the launch of an SFC preliminary review, completed at the end of August 2021, that sought to address major governance issues and “strained relationships” at SLC.

National auditors later identified areas where the college had not fully complied with the code of good governance. This included the board not meeting for five months from June 2021, and the audit and risk committee not meeting for six months from May 2021.

The letter to Ms Sturgeon, which is dated May 23, 2022, says the SFC, the Scottish Government and other organisations were asked for help on how best to address historic governance problems and wider issues at SLC. Significantly, it says the Education Secretary and her officials were among those alerted by Ms McKechnie and senior colleagues. According to the letter, the college leadership sent Ms Somerville a collective whistleblowing complaint on November 23 last year – just days before the principal and Mr Keegan were suspended. However, the author claims none of the relevant agencies took mitigating action.

HeraldScotland: College principal Aileen McKechnie remains suspended.College principal Aileen McKechnie remains suspended.

The document also highlights how the SFC has provided assurances to ministers that due process is being followed. Its author insists this is not the case and refers to breaches in areas including legislation, the code of good governance, terms and conditions of appointment, the board member code of conduct, and college policy and procedures.

The SFC comes under further fire, with the letter stressing that its preliminary review has not led to a full review, even though there are ongoing issues at SLC. It notes that investigations into complaints against senior figures, including board members, have resulted in legal costs to the college that exceed £250,000. In addition, the missive claims there is a systemic lack of interest in ensuring governance concerns are addressed.

Responding to its contents, Mr MacAskill said: “There’s something rotten at the heart of South Lanarkshire College and it requires rooted out.

“There’s clear evidence of malfeasance and yet those seeking to address it find themselves the victims. The Scottish Government has gone awol and the Scottish Funding Council find themselves implicated by the actions of their chief executive in sustaining what is clearly amiss.

“Action needs taken, wrongdoing tackled and those seeking to do right supported.”

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An SFC spokesman stressed that the organisation commissioned an “independent preliminary review” after being alerted to "potential" SLC governance issues. He added: “The review report made a number of recommendations, and the college was asked to develop a governance improvement plan in response to these.

“The board of South Lanarkshire College has since been strengthened through the addition of new members and an interim principal has been appointed by the college to ensure it continues to deliver for learners and its wider community.

“SFC remains engaged with the Regional Strategic Body and with South Lanarkshire College to ensure it continues to strengthen its governance arrangements and to secure a good, productive learning experience for students."

An SLC spokesman said investigations into complaints against Ms McKechnie, Mr Keegan and Mr Kerr were ongoing. He added: “Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan remain suspended. Mr Kerr continues to stand down as chair of the board of management. The college continues to provide a high-quality learning experience supported by robust corporate governance.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Ministers’ paramount interest is safeguarding the quality of learning at South Lanarkshire College, and high standards of governance are crucial in ensuring this.

“The Scottish Funding Council, as the body with responsibility for investigating governance issues, will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates to the Scottish Government.”