THE sudden resignation of the director at Glasgow’s fire- ravaged School of Art piled fresh pressure on the board last night.
Politicians demanded an urgent explanation after the departure of Tom Inns – who had previously insisted he would remain in post to rebuild the stricken school – was announced at 4.55pm on Friday.
Managers and board members had faced criticism after the iconic Charles Rennie Mackintosh building suffered two devastating fires in four years. However, in a statement, the art school insisted Professor Inns’ resignation was not related to the devastation.
That did not convince Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, who will demand answers at Holyrood this week.
She said: “Everything about this leaves more questions than answers.
“I don’t believe this is a coincidence. There is no way this is just a matter of ‘I’ve done my five years so let’s move on’. Tom Inns has gone for a reason and we are entitled to know what it is.”
The Glasgow MSP is calling for an emergency response from culture secretary Fiona Hyslop, and intends to table an urgent question at Holyrood this week on the issue.
She said: “There needs to be an emergency provision put in place to ensure overarching governance, because clearly people are now becoming concerned we are not getting to the truth.
“Local residents and businesses are just apoplectic, since it was revealed the fire service has only just started the investigation into the cause of the fire.
“How are they going to get to the bottom of this and why has everyone allowed Historic Scotland and the art school to delay the actual investigation? It’s an absolute scandal.”
A source at the art school said the manner of Professor Inns’ resignation was “almost unprecedented” for a higher education institution, adding: “He wasn’t in work for a few days before he resigned and then he resigned effectively at 5pm. It is very, very unusual.”
Professor Inns stood down days after it emerged a senior figure at the art school had raised concerns around insurance cover, asking if policies meant to rebuild the Mack had been risked by unauthorised work going on at the site.
Gordon Gibb, director of professional studies at GSA’s architecture department, questioned the terms of Kier Construction’s insurance policies after it emerged the firm had a site office inside the Mackintosh building. GSA staff were also using an area of the building, known as the janitor’s house, which contained a kitchen and electrical items.
Mr Gibb, who also acts as an expert witness within the construction industry, suggested the fire may have started in the janitor’s house.
He said: “There is no way that flat would have been properly fire protected from the rest of the building.
“It appears the fire was well-established before anyone could see it – that wouldn’t happen if it was at the front of the building where there is lots of glass. But it would happen if it was in a little flat tucked at the back.”
Mr Gibb said he did not know the specifics of the insurance policy for the GSA.
He added: “The question is whether someone has been sufficiently negligent to make it in contravention of the insurance requirements. I have seen situations before where people may end up with a reclaiming action against them – where the insurance pays out but then goes after them.”
Another expert, Stewart Kidd, who wrote Historic Scotland’s fire safety guide, has called for the Scottish Government to clarify the terms of the policy. He said the presence of accommodation or facilities within the building should not have been allowed given it was still a construction site.
Mr Kidd has recommended that the Scottish Parliament committee investigating the GSA fire request a copy of the insurance policy to determine what was covered.
He said: “I made this recommendation to the head of the committee. I don’t know if she has done this yet but I certainly think it would be sensible.
“Insurers require compliance with guidance which states accommodation has to be fire resistant or at least 10 metres from the construction site.”
Paul Sweeney, Labour MP for Glasgow North East, has also called for the Scottish Government to step in, and said he believes the GSA board of directors, led by broadcaster Muriel Gray, should now join Professor Inns in stepping down.
He said: “The entire GSA board should go, en masse, and the GSA should be transferred to the administration of Glasgow University, as was first proposed 25 years ago.
“The culture secretary and minister for higher education both need to urgently make a statement to Parliament on these developments.”
Glasgow School of Art said the majority of the rebuilding work would still be paid for by insurers, and that the board do not know how or where the fire started.
It said: “After five years and a challenging past few months, Tom Inns decided to leave the GSA. He has worked incredibly hard, particularly over the past few months, to ensure that people could get into their homes; businesses into their premises and students on campus. It’s a natural time for him to step aside.”
Kier Construction said: “On some building projects it is typical to base a site management office and team on the premises of the project.”
Culture secretary Mrs Hyslop said: “I want to thank Professor Tom Inns for the hard work and commitment he has given to Glasgow School of Art during his tenure as director.”