Swinney urged to step in to FE pay row

15 Sep 17

Scottish education secretary John Swinney faces mounting pressure – including from within his own party – to intervene over a 17% pay rise for a top college executive at a time when pay for further education staff has been subjected to prolonged constraint.

Holyrood’s public audit committee has written demanding a public statement from Swinney, who is also deputy first minister. The letter calls a £14,000 pay hike for Robin Ashton, executive director of the Glasgow Colleges Regional Board “entirely inappropriate” and “an insult to those who provide vital public services”.

The committee’s Labour chair Jackie Baillie also warns Swinney that Ashton’s increase, if allowed to go ahead, would send a signal that “excessively high pay rises” were acceptable, at a time when the Scottish Government is preparing to lift the public sector pay cap.

Another committee member, former Scottish National Party Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, said it was “absolutely beyond belief” that such a pay rise could be sanctioned at a time when nurses were having to settle for 1%.

The GCRB has defended the increase on the basis that Ashton’s is a new post created out of sectoral restructuring, and that his £81,000 salary did not reflect the responsibilities of the job, lagging well behind those of some individual college principals.

Ashton’s increase has been criticised by the biggest teaching union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, but the rise is an awkward issue for unions because it was sanctioned by the GCRB board, whose interim chair is Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

The public audit committee questioned Dr John Kemp, interim chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council – which funds the tertiary education sector – as to why he had not used his powers to block the pay rise. 

Kemp replied that these powers were only to be used exceptionally, but revealed that he had written to Smith in terms designed to encourage the GCRB to reconsider the increase.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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