A probe into a controversial decision to turn down government cash earmarked for Fife school pupils has revealed a “catalogue of missed opportunities, misunderstandings and poor levels of communication”, it has been claimed.
Labour councillor Colin Davidson has accused Fife Council of hiding behind a veil of Covid in an attempt to justify withdrawing a £230,000 funding bid to run Foundation Apprenticeships for 100 Levenmouth Academy students.
The decision was branded “incredible” by Labour MSP Alex Rowley.
The work experience course would have taught third and fourth year students technical skills, communication and self-management while they worked on community projects.
Senior council officers carried out an internal investigation into the 11th hour decision, which saw the local authority walk away from the offer from Skills Development Scotland just hours before the application deadline in August because it was “too ambitious”.
This was despite the fact officers had, themselves, bid for the money two months previously.
Mr Rowley said: “It is incredible that senior officers within Fife Council blocked this money coming into the Levenmouth area because they thought the bid was ‘too ambitious’ and that it seems no discussion took place with the local hub before council officials blocked the bid.
“We seem to have an awful lot of highly-paid managers within Fife Council who do not speak to each other, never mind local groups.
“In the meantime, this money for training young people is blocked whilst youth unemployment grows and the numbers of young people without meaningful qualification or training increases.”
The council has pledged to learn from the episode.
The inquiry, led by the council’s head of assets and facilities Ken Gourlay, found the decision had ultimately been the right one given concerns around pupils leaving the school to work elsewhere amid Covid restrictions.
However, he said waiting until the last minute to pull the bid could have been avoided.
He has now recommended an internal audit of all Foundation Apprenticeships across the council after finding there had been limited consultation between the two council departments involved in the issue.
He said there was no ongoing working relationship between the employability team and education and that work to rebuild trust was required.
In a confidential report, seen by The Courier, Mr Gourlay revealed the bid was submitted by employability staff without telling education chiefs and the latter department did not raise concerns for another month, by which time schools were working on reopening under Covid regulations.
He said there had been a lack of discussion with the school, pupils, parents and Buckhaven Community Trade Hub, which helped prepare the bid and would have run the course on the council’s behalf.
He added scrutiny had not been robust enough.
“Education were not engaged at an early enough stage to have contributed to the decision-making around the appropriateness of the bid,” he said.
“Had the bid been discussed…at the outset then it may have been that the development of the bid would not have progressed.”
The officer said work must be done to improve relationships and trust among all key players.
Mr Davidson said the need to address opportunities for training for young people in Levenmouth still exist, despite the pandemic.
“The findings and recommendations within the investigation clearly demonstrate there has been a catalogue of missed opportunities, misunderstandings and poor levels of communication, much of it cloaked under the veil of Covid, that’s led to £230,000 of funding for young people’s skills development being returned to the Scottish Government.
“Thankfully, there are concerns raised and recommendations made to address the governance and operations of the relationship between Fife College and Fife Council with assurances and internal audit to look into this.”
Fife Council chief executive Steve Grimmond confirmed there had been an internal investigation.
“We have thoroughly investigated the events that led to this decision and all stakeholders have been made aware of the findings” he said.
“Lessons will be learned and recommendations made in the report will be taken forward.”