THE deputy leader of the SNP at Westminster has been pulled into a row around alleged misconduct in a Scottish college after the Tories brought up the case in Holyrood.

Conservative MSP Graham Simpson claimed in the Scottish Parliament that he had been told SNP MP Kirsten Oswald "knew what was going on" at South Lanarkshire College (SLC), where she was HR boss at SLC from May 2002 to May 2015.

Board papers for a meeting in June last year revealed there had been claims concerning “potential financial irregularities” linked to “private businesses” operating from the institution’s premises while allegedly using its materials and lecturing staff time. It is understood the alleged activity was centred on the construction faculty.

The minutes confirm there were also claims about potential timetabling “anomalies” involving fabrication of hours, students and classes. In addition, it was alleged that staff were subjected to “systematic” bullying and intimidation over a “prolonged” period.

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Receipt of the complaints in September 2020 led to college principal Aileen McKechnie commissioning a forensic investigation by internal auditors Azets. It is understood the claims are connected to the time before her tenure.

The probe resulted in a report that was provided to SLC in May last year and contains recommendations for improvement to procedures. College bosses said the recommendations were accepted in full. They also stressed the report concluded there was “no evidence of criminality that would have necessitated a further investigation by the police”.

Addressing Somerville on Wednesday, Simpson said: "What has been going on at South Lanarkshire College is a scandal. There are allegations of private businesses operating from college premises, using college materials and lecturing staff time.

"In my view, the new principal, Aileen McKechnie, was cleaning up the mess. She was suspended, and she should be reinstated. The local EIS-FELA branch had a vote of no confidence in the board. I was at a branch meeting last week, and it was announced that the national executive is backing the branch on that, which is quite unprecedented.

"Much of what happened allegedly took place while the head of human resources at the college was Kirsten Oswald, who is now the Member of Parliament for East Renfrewshire. People have told me that she knew what was going on. Has the cabinet secretary had any discussions with Kirsten Oswald about that, and does she agree with me that, as a public figure, Kirsten Oswald should say what she knew and whether she was asked to do anything?"

The National: Complaints regarding alleged fraud and intimidation at South Lanarkshire College were received in September 2020.Complaints regarding alleged fraud and intimidation at South Lanarkshire College were received in September 2020.

Somerville said: "I said that there are a number of ongoing investigations. It is very important that, as a Government minister, I do not prejudice those. The member pointed to the fact that the principal has been suspended, which was a decision for the board and not for the Scottish Government. That decision was part of the due process, to allow the investigations to take place, and the principal and the interim board clerk were suspended without prejudice."

She added: "I take the accusations at the college very seriously, and I am in regular discussion with the Scottish Funding Council to receive reassurances about the situation. Investigations are ongoing and there is an official process. It is important that members take note of that and accord the process the significance and importance that I think that it deserves." 

Asked to comment on the latest developments, a college spokesperson said: “South Lanarkshire College takes any allegation of staff or board misconduct extremely seriously.

"Following receipt of anonymous allegations in September 2020, South Lanarkshire College conducted an independent externally-led forensic investigation.

"The report, produced by Azets, concluded that there was no evidence of criminality that would have necessitated a further investigation by the police. However, recommendations were identified, all of which were accepted by the college. The management response to the Azets report details those recommendations in full and is available publicly on the college website.

"At South Lanarkshire College, we provide a supportive environment that is safe, respectful, equitable and inclusive for all students and staff.

"Unrelated to the Azets report, South Lanarkshire College received whistleblowing concerns in September and November 2021, which are the subject of ongoing investigations. The college has engaged independent external advisers to conduct the investigations and, at this time, it would be inappropriate to comment further.

“Aileen McKechnie and [interim clerk to the board] Brian Keegan remain suspended, alongside the chair of the board, Andy Kerr, who has stepped down from his duties whilst investigations are being undertaken. Investigations are ongoing and we cannot comment further at this time.”