‘Systematic failures’ cause Hetherington club shutdown

Published

 Sarah Smith

Guardian has obtained minutes detailing the extent of the Hetherington Research Club’s (HRC) problems in the months before it was forced to cease trading in February.

The minutes, from a meeting of the Committee of Management (CoM) on January 25, 2010, indicate that the Club had been in trouble for months before any action was taken. At the meeting it was reported that there were “systematic failures in Club management”, with the Club’s manager, Fiona Dalrymple, attributing the financial deficit to “significant costs incurred due to the [CoM] not having time to run the club”.

The document also shows that the CoM knew by the date of the meeting that the club was operating illegally due to its “VAT issues and debtors”. After being made aware of the HRC’s financial situation, David Newall, Secretary of Court, commissioned a review by the auditing firm, Deloitte.

The HRC’s debts were so high that some of its suppliers refused to continue deliveries, leaving the Club without toilet paper, food and drink, and gas for the beer pumps.

The minutes show that the CoM was planning to use £10,000 of the Club’s annual grant from the University — which last year totalled £45,000 — to pay its suppliers as well as its outstanding tax.

The HRC was suffering from more than financial problems in recent months. The minutes also show that police were notified after concerns were raised regarding a sum of money that “disappeared” and was “unaccounted for”.

Strathclyde police confirmed that they are investigating a former employee of the HRC for alleged breach of trust and embezzlement.

According to the former staff representative, Eileen Boyle, the debt accrued was too much for one individual to be held responsible.

A statement released on behalf of the former staff said: “One of the main failings at the club was that accurate, verifiable financial records were not maintained and could not be provided to either the incoming Committee or the accountancy firm … appointed by the University to investigate the situation. In those circumstances, it is difficult to see how an allegation of theft could be made or substantiated.

“The individual concerned approached the police of their own accord in an effort to clear their name, and they have the support and confidence of the non-managerial bar and kitchen staff in their attempts to do so.”

At the January 25 meeting it was reported that cleaning had been “inadequate” for months, causing health and safety issues. The minutes say: “There is vomit and excrement in toilets for days after a major event, toilets blocked for days.”

As part of the audit, Deloitte requested a copy of the Club’s membership database, but this was “inadvertently deleted” by Dalrymple.

A petition containing 594 signatures for the return of the HRC’s facilities and for Hetherington House to be re-opened was submitted to David Newall on March 9. Newall’s response reiterated the University’s position that, whilst the Club’s closure is regrettable, it can only be re-established on the acceptance of a viable business plan.

He explained: “The University’s managers are also disappointed at the Hetherington’s closure and we have stated that we will give serious consideration should a business plan be submitted seeking support to re-establish a Postgraduate Club.

“Such a plan will require to be robust, particularly in the light of the business difficulties experienced by the Hetherington.”

The total debt is thought to be around £50,000 but the CoM is unable to confirm any figures due to a lack of paperwork as the Club’s accounts had not been audited since June 2008. Despite assurances that any money owed to those made redundant by the Club’s closure will be paid, the University has admitted that it cannot make any commitments to taking responsibility for the Club’s debts until the total owed has been calculated.

A spokesman said: “The University will provide funds to ensure that all the Club’s staff receive in full the sums they were due.

“The administrator for the Hetherington Club is in contact with the suppliers to establish exactly how much is owed. The University cannot make any decisions on how this will be dealt with until the full figures are known.”

At a general meeting on March 10, after only four months in office, the current committee members resigned and a new CoM was elected.

The HRC’s new president, Seumas Bates, was unable to comment on the events leading to the Club closing but was positive about its future.

He said: “The Club has been given the opportunity to reinvent itself, to renew itself, and to go on to provide even greater support for the students and staff of the University of Glasgow.

“By learning from the mistakes of the past we have the opportunity of developing a stronger and more relevant Club for our membership … it is important to remember that although the building we all knew and loved has closed, the spirit of the Club lives on in its membership. In a very real sense they are the HRC, not bricks and mortar.”

More on this story:

Editorial

Scotland’s only postgrad club shuts down