The Auditor Normal has indicated that claims of fraud at a crisis-hit school could require police involvement.
Stephen Boyle’s remarks to MSPs got here after he was questioned about allegations regarding “potential monetary irregularities” linked to “personal companies” working from South Lanarkshire School (SLC) whereas allegedly utilizing its supplies and lecturing workers time. It’s understood the alleged exercise, outlined in administration board minutes for a gathering on June 8 final 12 months, centred on the establishment’s building college.
The minutes affirm there have been additionally claims concerning potential timetabling “anomalies” involving fabrication of hours, college students and courses. As well as, it was alleged workers had been subjected to “systematic” bullying and intimidation over a “extended” interval.
Receipt of the complaints in September 2020 led to varsity principal Aileen McKechnie commissioning a forensic investigation by inner auditors Azets. It’s understood the claims are related to the time earlier than her tenure.
READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon alerts she is open to probe at school mired in fraud claims
The probe resulted in a report that was offered to SLC in Could final 12 months and accommodates suggestions for enchancment to procedures. School bosses mentioned the suggestions had been accepted in full. They’ve additionally burdened the report concluded there was “no proof of criminality that will have necessitated an extra investigation by the police”.
Nevertheless, the Azets doc has by no means been revealed and the exact phrases and scope of the investigation that led to its manufacturing stay unknown.
When requested beforehand to touch upon particular allegations described within the June 2021 board papers, SLC referred The Herald to a administration plan that units out auditor suggestions and motion taken to satisfy them. The plan suggests failings or weaknesses had been uncovered in areas akin to procurement, stopping bribery, finishing up provider due diligence and accepting hospitality or presents, HR, overseeing budgets and expenditure, inventory management, stock administration, and defending entry to storerooms and different areas which are “prone to theft”.
Bosses had been additionally suggested to tighten processes for course and lecturer timetabling, the monitoring of scholar attendance, scholar withdrawals and reserving out school autos. The suggestions and replace include recurring references to the development college.
In line with board papers, a separate HR probe was carried out into bullying and intimidation claims.
Requested by Conservative MSP Graham Simpson if he was conscious of allegations as set out within the June 2021 minutes, Mr Boyle instructed Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee: “The generality of the considerations – sure. The precise minute that you simply confer with, I hadn’t learn that board minute from the school.
“Noting a number of the phrases that you simply confer with in respect of allegations about behaviours – potential irregularities, potential fabrications – these are all very severe issues, little doubt.
“In discharging their oversight of public funds, public our bodies must have efficient management surroundings governance preparations in place. And the board will need to be glad, I’m certain, that each one of those allegations are correctly investigated.”
Addressing committee convener Richard Leonard, Mr Boyle added: “Within the occasion that it’s deemed that these allegations of such seriousness have resulted in not simply improper conduct however potential… if there’s any monetary irregularities, there may be an obligation, after all, to report such considerations to Police Scotland.” His remarks prompted Mr Simpson to say: “That’s my view – that this might be a police matter.”
READ MORE: South Lanarkshire School failed to satisfy governance requirements, say auditors
Issues over alleged fraud come amid indicators that SLC final 12 months suffered a severe governance breakdown. In November, the board agreed to fee two impartial investigations into complaints towards its chair Andy Kerr, Ms McKechnie and interim clerk Brian Keegan. The board additionally agreed to droop Ms McKechnie and Mr Keegan during the investigations. Mr Kerr, a former Labour minister, voluntarily stepped other than his function for a similar interval. The inquiries are ongoing.
Final month, Audit Scotland revealed a report that highlighted areas the place SLC had not absolutely complied with the Code of Good Governance for Schools. This included the board not assembly for 5 months from June 2021, and the audit and threat committee not assembly for six months from Could 2021.
Police Scotland mentioned yesterday that preliminary checks indicated no report or notification of alleged fraud at SLC had ever been acquired.
A school spokesman mentioned: “South Lanarkshire School takes any allegation of workers or board misconduct extraordinarily severely.
“Following receipt of nameless allegations in September 2020, South Lanarkshire School performed an impartial, externally led, forensic investigation. The report, produced by Azets, concluded that there was no proof of criminality that will have necessitated an extra investigation by the police. Nevertheless, suggestions had been recognized, all of which had been accepted by the school. The administration response to the Azets report particulars these suggestions in full and is obtainable publicly on the school web site.
“At South Lanarkshire School, we offer a supportive surroundings that’s secure, respectful, equitable and inclusive for all college students and workers.
“Unrelated to the Azets report, South Lanarkshire School acquired whistleblowing considerations in September and November 2021 that are the topic of ongoing investigations. The school has engaged impartial exterior advisers to conduct the investigations and, at the moment, it could be inappropriate to remark additional.”