What’s going on at South Lanarkshire College? With so many political scandals hogging the spotlight, acting there have been somewhat sidelined. But it doesn’t look right and it certainly seems an injustice has been perpetrated against Aileen McKechnie, the Principal and her Clerk Brian Keegan both presently suspended from duties.
Now in my younger days tales of abuses in council direct labour departments abounded. The Convenors extension or Provosts patio were said to be the Friday chores for the workforce. Most were largely apocryphal, though major corruption scandals did afflict Dundee and Newcastle and doubtless a few such jobs were done here and there. But ended it was and rightly so.
Now though there seems to be suggestions of staff and students at the College being directed to carry out “homers”, along with other management failures including a culture of bullying. Simply unacceptable you might say? Find out what’s been going on and root it out?
Well it seems that’s what the Principal Aileen McKechnie sought to do. Taking over as Principal in April 2020, with a distinguished career in education, she instructed a report by a specialist accountancy firm to address the concerns. It’s from that document I’ve borrowed the word “homer”.
All’s sorted then you might think? But no poor Ms McKechnie and her assistant found themselves suspended by the College Board from their duties in December 2021 and remain so. The “Azets” report, which is the title of the specialist report and named after the firm who conducted it, has been kept from staff and students despite their understandable and mounting concerns.
Moreover, despite the challenges to the college sector budget, legal costs at South Lanarkshire are escalating and at a factor that dwarfs all other such institutions. That doesn’t relate to complex legal challenges to acquire land for educational purposes or ensure buildings are fit for purpose to teach and learn in. It’s to deal shut down internal dissent and close down external scrutiny.
Despite that the report has leaked. Truth will out after all and not only do many in the media now have it, but so do I and several other elected members. It’s scandal and it’s time the Scottish Government and the Funding Council got a grip. Concerns have already been raised by the Auditor General and action needs taken.
The report bravely actioned by Ms McKechnie and sadly to her own cost makes illuminating reading, even for one that was truncated and limited in scope. Let me share some of the hidden gems;
“Homers are one of the larger and more commonly alleged concerns raised….A few significant homers were identified by several of the interviewees.”
“We have identified blueprints and other building documentation relating to this work.”
“We highlight that bullying and intimidation does not form part of our scope of work, but note this was regularly brought up…”
All that wasn’t recent but long standing going back to 2013, if not before.
This is simply unacceptable. The report must be published. In addition the Board must go, Ms McKechnie and her colleague should be reinstated and an inquiry instigated.
Council direct Labour departments were rightly cleaned up and so must South Lanarkshire College.