College principal and his wife step aside

Adam Smith College, Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith College, Kirkcaldy

THE principal of Adam Smith College AND his wife have both stepped aside while an investigation into an alleged culture of bullying takes place.

The Press can reveal that Linda Thomson, an executive director based at St Brycedale, is one of THREE senior management figures who have vacated their desks while the Scottish Funding Council carries out a detailed review of the running of the college.

The disclosures come one week after the college announced Dr Craig Thomson was taking a leave of absence during the review.

No mention was made at the time of similar absences involving any other senior figures - the disclosures only came after inquiries made by the Fife Free Press.

Sources close to the college have told us that Linda Thomson, plus Christine Sinclair, executive director for business, and Sandra Rhodes, director of information management, are currently not at their desks.

Halogen Communications, the company hired by the college to handle its publicity and media affairs, would only confirm that ‘‘other members of senior management have taken leave during this enquiry.’’

It refused to say who, or how many, had decided to leave their posts during the investigation.

‘‘For employee confidentiality reasons, we are not at liberty to publish the details of these individuals,’’ a spokesman said.

Asked to confirm if three of the four executive directors had effectively gone on ‘gardening leave’, he added: ‘‘We would never comment on a personal HR issue based on very clear and strict confidentiality reasons. This applies to all individuals in the workplace.’’

Sources at the college say staff and their line managers were not informed of the developments.

A spokesman refused to comment on that or the impact on the running of the college.

The absences mean there is now a major gap in the top tier of the college’s management structure.

Ian Harrington, vice-principal, is now at the helm in the absence of Dr Thomson.

The Press understands only one of the four executive directors continues to be in their post.

Two senior staff, suspended at the start of February, have also yet to return.

David Torrance MSP said: ‘‘Three directors of the college have been absent since the investigation began.

‘‘I have to ask what governance the college has and what direction it has now with so many senior managers now on leave.’’

THE investigation into the running of Adam Smith College got underway this week.

The Scottish Funding Council sent it its team of investigators to carry out a detailed review - and probe allegations that a culture of bullying and intimidation had been allowed to exist.

And Mike Russell, Education Secretary, has made it clear he wants a report on his desk as quickly as possible.

The independent review - instigated by Mr Russell after the issue was raised in the Scottish Parliament by Kirkcaldy MSP, David Torrance - will look into complaints about the treatment of staff, and how the college responded to them.

It will also study its procedures for dealing with such issues, and the governance in place.

The independent review team is being led by DLA Piper and supported by HR specialists, Stewart Solutions Limited, and will offer confidentiality to all staff and students who speak to them.

They moved into the campus on Tuesday and are likely to be there for the rest of this month.

Mark Batho, Scottish Funding Council chief executive, said: “We welcomed the invitation from the Board of Governors at the college to conduct this review when it came to us last week.

‘‘We have worked hard since then to put in place the specialist help we need to ensure a fair, open and decisive resolution to the situation.”

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell, said: “I very much welcome the decision of the Board of Governors to commission this work from the Scottish Funding Council and I welcome too participation of legal and HR specialists.

“Quite clearly, staff and students need to have the opportunity to voice any concerns they may have.

‘‘I have written to the chairman of the College to express my support for this approach and to make clear I am keen to see a report of its conclusions as soon as possible.”

The start of the review was also welcomed by staff who spoke to the Press this week.

Their spokesman described it as: ‘‘Now we have the beginning of an investigation.’’

They added: ‘‘We do not want any issues pushed to one side for the sake of convenience.’’

The Press understands that Mark Goldsmith, the new chairman of the Board of Governors - who replaced Graham Johnstone after he stepped down as the controversry engulfed the organisation - was set to meet with staff this week.

THE resignations which rocked the Board of Governors also took a new twist this week.

Asked by the Press, Halogen confirmed that Zelda-Franklin Hill had returned to the post of secretary - and Irene Morrison had resumed her duties as vice-chairman.

Both quit in an explosive week at the start of February which saw chairman Graham Johnstone stand down and the board lose three other members - Eric Byiers being the third to quit.

Following her decision to return as vice-chairman, Irene Morrison said: “I’m delighted to return at such a crucial time for the college.

“Under the leadership of the new chairman, Mark Goldsmith, I’m confident the college can move forward with confidence and retain its position as a leader in further education in Fife.”

COLLEGE staff have been urged to speak up during the investigation.

The EIS is urging their members to come forward and meet with the independent team looking into the running of the college.

Union officials have also had meetings with the new men at the helm of the Board of Governors to discuss the actions which have followed the long-running whistleblowing PID processes which sit at the heart of the allegtaions of bullying.

The Press understands the discussions saw information shared in ‘‘an unprecedented manner.’’

events over the next few weeks. Our advice to members is attend one of these meetings if you can, and show your support for what the Board is doing.

Branch meetings were held on Wednesday to bring members up to date with the developments.

ADAM Smith College’s involvement in a sailing club event in north-east Fife brought ‘‘no benefit’’ to students, it was claimed this week.

The college was major sponsors of the Anstruther Munster in 2009 and 2010, investing resources of around £25,000 over the two summers, according to documents seen by the Fife Free Press.

A spokesman for the college said it had ‘‘limited sponsorship’’ involvement - and it adhered to all procedures.

The Muster - an annual communuity event in the seaside town - takes place in August when students are still on holiday, and sources have questioned the extent managers and staff were asked to get involved.

One claimed there were barely a handful of students involved over the two years. and described the time and resources deployed to it as ‘‘inappropriate.’’

They added: ‘‘If it was a regeneration scheme planned as part of the cirriculum, or one that looked at the history of the area or brought in a social sciences element - to name but a few - then fair enough.

’’That is part of what we do as a college, but this was held in the summer and while it was sold as a student event, there were barely any students involved.’’

A college press release announcing the 2009 sponsorship - in association with Velux, the company run by Graham Johnstone, the former chairman of the Board of Governors - said it was ‘‘an excellent opportunity for events, tourism and hospitality students to get some hands-on experience.’’

Documents show in 2009 the college prepared sponsorship packages for the event as part of its ‘‘in kind contribution which was valued at £10,000, while in 2010 that figure rose to £15,000.

One source said: ‘‘There were barely half a dozen students there. Thatr works out at £5000 per head.

‘‘The time and money spent was completely inappropriate and underlines the issues regarding governance of the college.’’

The Press asked for a detailed breakdown of:

How much public money was put into the event?

How many students were directly involved in 2009 and 2010?

Given it was in August - out of term time - which courses directly benefited

The proposal was for a three-year sponsorship, but 2011 didn’t happen - why not?

A college spokesman said: ‘‘The limited sponsorship by Adam Smith College of the community event in Anstruther was done in strict adherence with college procedures .

‘‘In addition, it gave a cohort of hospitality and events management students the opportunity to have some real, hands on experience away from the classroom.

‘‘Furthermore, this funding has been fully reviewed by independent auditors and confirmed as involving no element of misapropriation. ‘‘