FIFE Police have been called in to investigate alleged funding discrepancies which could amount to millions of pounds at Adam Smith College.
Three senior staff members have been suspended, and the college has admitted for the first time it will have to pay back a substantial amount of cash - it just doesn’t know exactly how much.
The dramatic steps came after auditors sent in by the Scottish Government delivered their verdict.
Their report has yet to land on the desk of Martin McGuire, interim principal - the third man to occupy the college hot seat inside 12 months - but what they told him was enough to spark immediate action.
After a day of meetings on Monday, the college suspended three senior staff with immediate effect.
The suspensions were taken ‘‘as a precautionary measure’’ a college statement stressed.
Mr McGuire said: “This is consistent with policy on such matters and does not in any way pre-judge the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.’’
The latest developments came after an audit carried out by the Scottish Government following an initial request from Kirkcaldy MSP David Torrance almost a year ago.
They have been on campus since October, completing their task just before the Christmas break, and the college has now been told it will have to repay a “substantial amount” of the money it claimed under the European Structural Funding betwen 2007 and 2012.
The statement said: “The college has not seen a copy of the report, however top line findings have been verbally provided, which have resulted in the decision to suspend those staff members who worked in the relevant areas as a precautionary measure, with immediate effect.
‘‘The college plans to fully investigate the issues arising and identify whether any disciplinary proceedings are necessary.
“The suspension of a staff member in these circumstances is consistent with policy on such matters and does not in any way pre-judge the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.’’
The statement also confirmed for the first time that police have been asked to conduct their own fraud investigation - and that the college would ’’have to repay a substantial amount of the monies claimed.’’
Mr McGuire added: “As interim principal, I am determined to address and resolve these issues as quickly as possible and to ensure that high quality learning and teaching at the college continues to be a priority for staff.’’
He said the college’s board was ‘‘fully supportive’’ of the action taken and pledged it would be ‘‘business as usual’’ for students attending classes.
Mr McGuire said: “We are in close liaison with the Scottish Funding Council and Scottish Government officials and will support the police during their own investigation process.
‘‘At present, timeframes are unknown in terms of announcing final outcomes, but we will ensure there is regular communication to our staff, students and the local community.”
A spokesman for Fife Police said: “The Crown Office has asked us to carry out an initial investigation into allegations about funding at Adam Smith College. As this is at a very early stage we are unable to give further details at this time.”
A Scottish Government spokesman added: “In early October allegations that European Structural Funds were being mismanaged at Adam Smith College led us to instigate an audit investigation.
‘‘The findings from that investigation were shared with the Crown Office. The Crown Office has decided to ask the Police to investigate the matter and report to them.
“The Scottish Government has robust measures in place to monitor the use of European Structural Funds and regularly checks that projects and grant claims comply with the regulations. We cannot comment further on this individual case.”
Adam Smith College is currently well into the process of merging with Carnegie College in Dunfermline to form a new college for Fife.