Further perks enjoyed by the University of Bath’s outgoing £471,000-a-year vice-chancellor can be revealed amid a fiery row over disclosure of the expenses.
South West Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison has been at loggerheads with the university secretary and says he will contact the Information Commissioner in a bid to see his Freedom of Information request answered in full.
Vice-chancellor Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell claimed 58 first-class train journeys and three first-class flights – to San Francisco, New York and Beijing – in the year and four months from August 2016 to the end of November 2017.
Critics have pointed to university financial regulations which say all employees should travel in economy class wherever possible.
“The cheapest possible method of travel, consistent with efficient working practices, should be used,” point six of the University of Bath’s policy for travel, subsistence and entertainment states.
“This will usually be second class rail travel or economy air fare for travel abroad and applies to all university employees, regardless of status or source of salary funding.”
Of the train journeys, many of these were on single tickets to Guildford where Dame Glynis owns a home.
But a university spokesman said her trips to the Surrey town were stop-offs for engagements in the capital to avoid paying for accommodation in London, and that Dame Glynis may travel first-class ‘whenever it is more efficient’.
The spokesman said: “The journeys listed relate to trips made by the vice-chancellor for university business both domestically and internationally.
(Image: University of Bath)
“Like many CEOs and university leaders, the vice-chancellor is required to undertake significant travel and it is in the terms of her contract of employment that first class rail travel is permitted whenever it is more efficient to do so.
“Journeys by train to or from Guildford, all of which are exclusively either to or from London, relate to travel by the vice-chancellor for university business from her residence in Guildford. These options reduced the need for overnight and other associated costs.”
(Image: Paul Stallard / Western Daily Press)
However, Mr Murrison questioned the necessity of travelling in first class when the long-serving university leader had no immediate meeting to attend.
By comparison, he said, ministerial-level MPs are able to expense business class flights only for trips of more than three-and-a-half hours and when they have an engagement the moment they step off the plane.
“If you’re going home you’re not preparing for a meeting,” he said.
Mr Murrison added: “In most other spheres of life there’s been a reduction in amounts of expenses that individuals are able to claim including in my own profession.
“It appears that Bath hasn’t followed that trend and … it’s high time that it looked at it again.
“At a time when students are facing ever increasing debt and when academics are struggling to maintain their pension entitlement, you don’t exactly have a picture of restraint at Bath University.”
Mr Murrison attacked the university after his FoI for five years of the vice-chancellor’s plane and train expenses was not initially answered.
He told university secretary Mark Humphriss: “I refer to the refusal of Bath University to comply with my freedom of information request contained at the reference. This is to formally request that you review the decision.
“The matter in question is one of significant public interest. It touches on openness, transparency and accountability, virtues that I would expect Bath, indeed all universities, to uphold enthusiastically.
“The excuse given at the reference is poor. We are invited to accept that basic accounting records are not readily available at Bath for the period requested. No attempt has been made to offer any data at all. As a minimum, I would expect material relating to the current financial year to be immediately available and for the past three years also since the retention of such data is required by the tax man.
“The irony of refusing a request made under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds of cost is clear since it was prompted by concerns over an egregiously wasteful and disproportionate pay and package settlement in respect of the person tasked with the governance of the university.
“It is clearly in Bath’s interests to draw a line under this sorry saga. The reference gives me little hope that it is doing so.
“Please treat this as a formal request for an internal review and be assured that I will take it to the Information Commissioner if not satisfied. Furthermore, I will use all powers at my disposal to secure the material that the public, including my constituents involved as students, parents of students and staff at Bath University, have every right to expect.”
(Image: Richard Hudd)
The above letter was sent on December 8. Writing to this newspaper, Mr Murrison said: “For an outfit that’s meant to be transparent I find it bizarre that it should persist in acting in this way. Clearly it has learnt nothing.
“By way of comparison, I am quite sure that the Chronicle keeps the simple pay details on its employees that I’m requesting from Bath University. If it did not, it would run into difficulties with the tax man.”
On January 10 Mr Humphriss said more time – beyond the statutory 20 days to answer FoI requests – was needed.
“This is provided for under the guidance from the Information Commissioner’s office about internal reviews in exceptional circumstances, which this is, in our judgement, due to the complexity and scale of the information you are seeking,” Mr Humphriss said.
“It is our intention to supply some data in response to your request.”
(Image: Artur Lesniak)
On February 9, after discussions with the university finance department and Dame Glynis’s office, Mr Humphriss responded with the outcome of his review.
“I am afraid you may have misunderstood the point made in our response on December 6 2017 about the holding of information, and our reasons under the FOI Act for not being able to provide what you had requested,” he told Mr Murrison.
“At no stage did we say, as you suggest in your second paragraph above, that you ‘are invited to accept that basic accounting records are not readily available at Bath for the period requested’. It is, however, the case that we were not able to provide five years’ information in the form you requested within the 18 hours specified under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations 2004.
“That is because complying with your request would require us to locate, examine and extract information from a number of sources, including hard drives, emails, attachments and databases. Contrary to your reference to the tax man, we are not required to hold this data in the form you requested to comply with HMRC rules, and to produce it would entail very considerable work.
(Image: University of Bath)
“However, I am pleased now to be able to enclose, in the attached pdf document, data in respect of rail and air travel in 2016/17 and the first four months of academic year 2017/18. This lists each flight and rail journey made by the Vice-Chancellor by class of travel, as you requested, but without annotating those over 10 hours duration as this information will not be held in all instances.”
Read the university secretary’s full response in the embedded PDF above
Mr Murrison told Bath Live he’s unhappy that his FoI was not answered fully. “I’m concerned that I’ve only been provided with a fraction of the information that I requested,” he said.
“I would like data going back much further, then I would be in a better position that the data I’ve been provided is a one-off or part of a [wider pattern].”
“I think there’s real public interest. I think there’s genuine public interest in the release of comprehensive data on the VC’s expenses beyond that which has already been put in the public domain.
(Image: Western Gazette/Laura Jones)
“I think at this point the Information Commissioner needs to review what’s been released and give an opinion on what Bath needs to do better in providing information for recent years on the vice-chancellor’s remuneration and allowances.
“I keep my records going back several years and I’m very surprised that this sort of thing is not kept by Bath University for a considerable amount of time.
“I think that in itself tells a bit of a story.”
In August Mr Murrison sparked something of a chain reaction of revolt against the university senior management by resigning his role on its advisory body, court, in protest at Dame Glynis’s “excessive” pay.
Three more MPs followed suit before Dame Glynis announced in November that she will leave the post, which she has held since 2001, when the academic year ends. The university began its search for her successor earlier this year.
Read more on our coverage of the vice-chancellor pay dispute
Asked about what he expects from the next vice-chancellor, Mr Murrison said: “VCs should be leading by example. I’m not persuaded that’s happened at Bath University in recent years.
“I think Bath University has an opportunity to restore public confidence and I look forward to Dame Glynis’s successor paying close attention to what’s happened in the recent past and resolving to do better.”
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