FUNDING chiefs have attacked a near 20 per cent pay hike for a Scottish college official as "difficult to justify".

The criticism comes after the head of the body that helps run Glasgow's college sector was given a £15,000 rise which will see his salary increase from £81,000 to £95,000.

The rise follows a job evaluation of the role of Robin Ashton, executive director of the Glasgow Colleges' Regional Board (GCRB).

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A spokesman for the Scottish Funding Council (SCF) said: “The board has kept us informed about its recent discussions on salaries.

"In response we have emphasised the need for the board to be able to justify its decisions in the context of current public sector finances and in relation to other similar organisations.

"While we welcome the progress the board has made in the past year and fully respect its ability to make important funding decisions, we have told the board the levels decided upon are difficult to justify. That remains our view."

Representatives of public services union Unison and the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) also criticised the scale of the increase at a time of public sector pay restraint and cuts to core funding.

John Gallacher, Unison Scotland's recruitment organiser, described the increase as "outrageous" and demanded transparency over pay rises for all senior staff.

He said: "Senior pay in Scottish further education is out of kilter. Salaries for all staff in further education, at whatever grade, should be determined through a common job evaluation system that is open and transparent.

"We are about to commission a national job evaluation scheme in Scotland and it should cover all staff in the sector. The ratio of pay of highest paid to lowest paid in colleges is as bad as that complained about recently in higher education across the UK.”

Mr Gallacher said unions accepted the regional board needed senior people who could "punch their weight" at the same level as college principals such as Paul Little, from City of Glasgow College, who earns more than £150,000.

But he added: "It is concerning to see the creation of more very well paid senior jobs at a time of flat cash settlements for the sector, continuing pay inequality between colleges among support staff and pay rises not keeping pace with prices."

John Kelly, for the EIS added: "Twenty per cent pay increases are hard to justify, especially when the funding comes from the public purse.

"The EIS has supported the concept of a regional board for Glasgow, but the big question is what the benefit to students will be from such a pay increase.

"Students and staff across Glasgow will have little knowledge of who Robin Ashton is, what his post entails and they will find it hard to believe that this is an effective use of public funds."

Grahame Smith, interim chair of GCRB and general secretary of the STUC, said years of pay restraint for college workers would "obviously" make salary levels in the sector contentious.

But he added: "This post emerged from a staff restructuring which will enable Glasgow's colleges to enhance college education in the region and will generate cost savings that will benefit students.

"It carries huge responsibility with accountability for the allocation of around £100m annually, serving over 50,000 students, Scotland's largest conurbation and vitally important business base."

Mr Smith said the salary was around £25,000 less than it could have been under an evaluation of the role and was 40 per cent lower than the highest paid college principal.

The regional body was set up to help run the city's three colleges - City of Glasgow, Clyde and Glasgow Kelvin - following a series of mergers across Scotland.

The situation in Glasgow is unusual because the city has three colleges with their own principals and boards in addition to the over-arching regional body, whose funding comes from the overall college budget for the region.