Bòrd na Gàidhlig deemed a “total disaster” by SNP MSP

People in the Gaelic community ought to feel let down by the failings of the organisation set up to promote the language, a committee of MSPs said last week.

The MSPs have been probing the work of Bòrd na Gàidhlig in the wake of a highly-critical report from public-sector watchdog Audit Scotland.

Caroline Gardner, the Auditor General for Scotland, said a “culture of mistrust” had built up within the Bòrd, which had suffered from ineffective leadership and a lack of transparency in decision-making.

Under questioning from MSPs on the public audit and post-legislative scrutiny committee last Thursday, the auditor general and the consultants who had carried out the recent report suggested external help would be needed to resolve the agency’s problems.

The SNP’s Alex Neil was damning in his criticism after being told that recommendations made six months ago were still under consideration.

He said: “The work they are supposed to be doing is vital for the linguistic and cultural future of the country. And they are badly letting down people. If they can’t get their act together they should go. Both the senior management team and the board – they are getting paid well enough.”

The Bòrd’s chief executive Shona MacLennan is paid a salary of £90,000 a year, while senior management posts at the Inverness-based organisation command annual salaries of between £65,000 and £85,000.

Mr Neil suggested the management team was ‘top heavy’ for an organisation with an annual turnover of £5 million.

“A second-tier manager could run this on their tea break,” Mr. Neill added. “It’s a small organisation, and yet it seems to be a total disaster.

“It seems to me they (senior management) are not justifying the level of salary they are on.

“The board isn’t providing any effective leadership. The question is, why are they still there?”

Mr Neil was told that the wider Gaelic speaking community hadn’t been consulted when the Bòrd’s latest improvement plan was drawn up.

“Is that not part of the problem? The main users – the people – weren’t consulted on it,” Mr Neill asked.

“Surely if you are drawing up a business plan, you have to consult the customers first.” Ms Gardner said that while she accepted that the Bòrd was a small organisation, she didn’t accept it was “necessarily a simple one”.

She added: “Gaelic has a very important place in Scottish life, but it’s fragile in terms of the numbers who use it routinely and the geographic location of these communities.”

The consultants acknowledged that the Bòrd had to work from a small talent pool.

The SNPs Colin Beattie and Tory Liam Kerr both called for the agency to drop its requirements for all employees and members to speak Gaelic, in a bid to attract greater expertise – notably in financial roles.

Labour’s Rhoda Grant supported the principle behind the all-Gaelic policy and said anyone involved with the Bòrd should at least be ‘vested’ in their support for the language, either as a speaker or someone committed to learning it.

The committee branded it as unacceptable that Bòrd na Gàidhlig were still holding official meetings in private.

Article by Keith MacKenzie