An investigation lead by Concrete can reveal the extent of the UEA Executive Team’s expenses for the academic year of 2017-2018.
Following a Freedom of Information request sent over the summer, Concrete can exclusively reveal, through access to almost 600 pages of documentation, the way in which the eight members of UEA’s senior management staff have used university funds.
It is clear from the files supplied to Concrete that while most members of the Executive Team have claimed expenses reasonably, there are question marks hanging over a number of purchases, where this money is sourced from, and to what extent these claims fall under ‘performing university duties’.
It is not uncommon for staff members to incur costs through travelling to conferences in order to promote the university. However, questions have been raised as to whether the guidelines presented by UEA are being followed, with some of the files supplied to Concrete indicating that the university has funded staff trips to locations such as Hawaii, Toronto and Kuala Lumpur.
Other surprising purchases claimed on expenses include £160 limousine rides in Hong Kong, expensive meals, a GoPro camera, and a £500 fee to get a single book indexed.
UEA Vice Chancellor Professor David Richardson received funding for trips to Hong Kong, Brisbane, Zurich, with notable expenses incurred including limousine transport taken in Hong Kong, several stays at the five-star Intercontinental London and the Universities UK conference to Denmark staying at Hotel Ascot, costing £142 a night.
Prof. Richardson claimed a total of over £10,000 in the academic year 2017-2018, exceeded only by Pro-Vice Chancellor for Science Philip Gilmartin, who claimed in excess of £15,000 on several trips to China, a GoPro camera setup and the renewal of his premium Skype subscription. For context, the highest figure claimed by a single member of staff matches the annual salary of a low-level member of the university cleaning and maintenance staffs.
The Executive Team is lead by Prof. Richardson, with the most recent addition being Chief Operating Officer Jenny Baxter, who joined the university from the BBC last February.
According to UEA’s official guidelines, staff shall expect to be reimbursed ‘wholly, exclusively, reasonably and necessarily in the performance of their duties’ providing that ‘economy, efficiency and effectiveness are achieved’.
Staff are advised to use the most cost effective mode of transport wherever possible, with first class travel not permitted unless it is cheaper than a standard fare. It is clear that there have been instances where first class travel has been utilised, with the full expense claim filed despite it not being the cheapest option. In some cases the staff member has only been partially reimbursed from this claim, but it unclear what system the university is using to ensure this privilege is not abused. In addition to this, there are numerous uses of London taxi cabs for short distance trips where public transport could have been used.
The university have been unclear on how these funds are allocated or where they are sourced from. When queried on where and how expenses are allocated to members of the Executive Team, a representative told Concrete that ‘there are no allocations made for specific members of staff’.
Emphasis was placed on the role the Executive Team play in the success of the university becoming a globally competitive institution.
The representative stated that members of the Executive Team are expected to ‘undertake a wide variety of activities that directly support UEA’s mission as a world-class university for teaching and research,’ in consideration of their ‘strategic, institutional partnerships with other universities across the globe’.
When asked if the extent of the trips undertaken by members of the Executive Team were considered to be reasonable, the university said: ‘Helping build UEA’s profile internationally is important to the long-term success of the university and the Executive Team are required to travel in the course of their duties.’
However, students interviewed by Concrete have taken concern with particularly ‘luxurious’ fees. Referring to expenses such as a £640 dinner at Last Wine Bar, claimed by Chief Resource Officer Ian Callaghan, UEA student Joe Williams said ‘it’s disgusting.’
Though it appears this specific meal had 15 people in attendance, Ian Callaghan claimed over £2200 between November 2017 and July 2018. This includes two overnight trips (using four hotel rooms in total, one of which cost £162pn) and airline tickets, taxis, several train journeys and a conference ticket.
Joe Williams said: ‘Obviously employers should pay for work-related expenses, but the expenses described are clearly luxury. The senior management already receive more than a comfortable salary, but these claims amount to over an annual salary on top of that – it’s absolutely disgusting.
‘This is taking advantage of students and the university – we can’t claim such expenses, and neither can the maintenance staff.’
It is worth noting many first class trips taken by the Executive Team, were only partially refunded due to their request being ‘out of scope’, which likely refers to the fact they were first class.
Politics student Charlotte Manning said ‘There’s no excuse as to why what are most likely being described as ‘business meetings’ need to take place in luxury restaurants, and why a member of senior management staff has to travel first class on a train.’
Edit (22/11/2018): This article has been updated to correct several factual errors:
A previous version of the article suggested the Universities UK conference at Ascot costed £1000 a night. While the Vice-Chancellor was on a Universities UK International trip to Denmark and stayed in the Hotel Ascot, the trip only cost £142 a night – the price is 1190 in Danish Krona, and not Pound sterling.
A previous version of the article also suggested the cost of limousines rented in Hong Kong was £1600. The actual cost was £160 – which is 1600 in Hong Kong Dollars.