Critics have questioned the appointment of a director at the troubled Glasgow School of Art to the board of the country’s higher education funding body.
Art school director Irene McAra-McWilliam is one of seven people appointed by further education minister Richard Lochhead to join the board of the Scottish Funding Council.
But, in August, the body was asked by a whistleblower to investigate the management of the art school.
The funding council – which gave the art school a grant of £17 million this year – received from the whistleblower copies of emails revealing how art school director Tom Inns was forced to leave work against his will by chairwoman Muriel Gray.
Meanwhile, Inns resigned in November last year and was replaced by professor McAra-McWilliam, who has worked at the art school since 2005. She was appointed deputy director (innovation) in 2016.
The Charles Rennie Mackintosh building has been left in ruins since a second fire last year, but at a Scottish Parliament committee last November professor McAra-McWilliam joined then chair Muriel Gray in defending the art school board’s custodianship. In a Scottish Parliament debate 10 days ago, Lochhead refused to commit to a public inquiry.
Glasgow Labour MSP Pauline McNeill said: “It is as if the Scottish Government don’t appreciate it is a public institution. It is like they are washing their hands of it, and they have compounded it by not seeing the absolute conflict of interest here.
“Does the art school director not have enough to do? She has resignations all over the place, a fire report due soon, a breakdown in communication with the local community and trust between the public and the art school on a very shaky nail.”
Glasgow Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins said: “I thought it was quite striking in the debate how much out of his way the minister went to be supportive of the School of Art board.
“The clear impression I got is that the Scottish Government is minded there shouldn’t be a public inquiry and that the School of Art should continue to have full custodianship.
“There are questions for the minister and there are questions for the Scottish Funding Council to ensure in cases such as this there is no conflict of interest.”
Last week The Sunday Post revealed how the Scottish Fundraising Standards Panel, a watchdog that adjudicates on complaints about charities, is investigating the fundraising appeal launched by the art school after the first fire in 2014.
A senior staff member at the art school said: “It was wrong to seek charitable donations to save The Mack after the 2014 fire when the building was covered by insurance.”
The Glasgow School of Art said the appointment to the Scottish Funding Council “reflects the standing of prof McAra-McWilliam and the significant contribution she has made to industry and higher education”.