Shetland College merger badly handled says Scottish Labour’s Rhoda Grant

Scottish Labour’s Highlands and Islands lead list candidate, Rhoda Grant, remains very concerned at the way the Shetland College merger has been handled without Parliamentary checks and balances over its proposed privatisation.

Mrs Grant has supported EIS-FELA members and those in the community who want the merged college to be incorporated and to remain in public hands.

She has discovered that the merger is to go ahead on August 1 this year without any Parliamentary scrutiny of the move to establish the new college as an un-incorporated entity which would be a private company.

This is because the decision taken by the Transition Board under the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 1992, affects the process required for the merger.

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) says the vesting date for the new college remains 1 August, but because the college will not be incorporated under the 1992 Act no primary or secondary legislative process is required, nor any endorsement of structure or legal standing.

“It certainly sounds like a done deal now with no scrutiny of the college’s governance arrangements and of how privatisation will affect the staff and future monitoring of the public finances which are invested in the college despite it being a private limited company,” said Mrs Grant.

“The only scrutiny will come in several months’ time under assignation to UHI as the regional funding body and so, as the EIS and I are not against the actual merger or its assignation to UHI in principal, then there will be no opposition to the order.  However, the process to remove it from Local Authority control to the control of a publicly unaccountable board is not publicly scrutinised.

“The new merged college will be funded predominantly from public funds and therefore needs to be subject to democratic public accountability and the scrutiny of Audit Scotland, in line with public sector finance requirements.

“I think there should be further scrutiny for a project which has caused such a major rift in Shetland and I will push for that if re-elected.”

 The College is currently part of Shetland Islands Council. It is being merged with Train Shetland (also part of SIC) and the North Atlantic Fisheries College Marine Centre UHI (NAFC), which is an unincorporated college governed by a Board of Trustees. The EIS is not opposed to this merger.

 The EIS is opposed to the recommended business plan, approved by SIC, that the new Further Education college (Shetland College UHI) is to be unincorporated and is registered as a private company limited by guarantee.  Although the NAFC is already a private entity, this would be the first time in Scottish history when a Further Education college has been transferred from public ownership and control into a private company.

The EIS has said: “A privatised college is not accountable in law to the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. Unincorporated colleges can change their governance structures simply by amending their Articles of Association following a decision by the Board of Management. This does not provide the security of regulatory provision which would appear to have been envisaged by Scottish Ministers at the time of reclassification.”