In a move to “protect the organisation”, former Glasgow University SRC president Stuart Ritchie is set to receive a resignation pay-off of nearly four thousand pounds. This payment was agreed upon before he tendered his resignation. The payment comes despite a resignation that concluded a divisive term of office [see “the story so far” graphic here for a summary] and a 500-strong student petition to initiate the democratic processes to remove him as president.
The payoff was first revealed by the Glasgow Journal. However, it was unclear at what point Ritchie had been offered the £3.8k and how the payment had been authorised. Responding to questions from the Glasgow Guardian, the three vice presidents said that despite approving the payoff, they were not part of the discussions between Ritchie and Bob Hay, the SRC permanent secretary, and were unsure as to when the offer was made. The situation was later clarified by Hay who confirmed that the offer was made before Ritchie resigned. Hay also confirmed that the payment was designed as an incentive for Ritchie to leave quietly and “protect the organisation” against the possibility of a lengthy and expensive employment tribunal process.
When asked about the plans for Ritchie’s salary and a possible severance package, the SRC responded: “The President’s salary will be redistributed to fund GUSRC’s core services and activities.” When details of the payoff were published in the Glasgow Journal the SRC issued the following apology: “We’d like to apologise if any students feel misled by the statement, that was not our intention and we hope you can respect that the statement was made at a time when details were still uncertain.”
The money will be given to Ritchie in accordance with a “Memorandum of Understanding of Employment” which is signed by each SRC sabbatical officer upon taking office. The memorandum states that discretionary resignation payments given for “extenuating circumstances”, are “subject to the decision of the Permanent Secretary”. The Glasgow Guardian understands that the decision to offer Ritchie the extra money was made with the approval of the remaining vice presidents, on the recommendation of Mr Hay, who is the most senior member of staff at the SRC.
In a statement issued to the Journal, the SRC sabbaticals said that the decision took into account “GUSRC precedent”, referring to the resignation of SRC president Dan Guy in 2005.
Hay defended the decision to award Ritchie the payment, suggesting that the payoff would protect the SRC from becoming embroiled in an employment tribunal, or from a situation where Ritchie could “sign off sick for six months”. In this regard, the permanent secretary has stated that he was following guidance published by the National Union of Students (NUS), which encourages student bodies to treat sabbaticals not just as office holders but also as employees. Glasgow University SRC is not a member of the NUS, but most student unions in the UK are.
As elected office holders, the sabbaticals are trustees of the SRC, which is a registered charity. The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator provides guidance for trustees which states that “trustees should put the interests of their charity before their own interests or those of any other person or organisation.”
A former member of SRC council expressed dismay that Ritchie as a trustee of the organisation was offered, and then accepted, this money and suggested that this was indicative of wider problems at the SRC: “I have been a student at this university for nearly 8 years. This is another perfect example of why the SRC has become one of the biggest embarrassments for students who choose to study at this wonderful institution. It is in need of huge reform. The sabbatical roles appear to attract the type of people who are more worried about their own future employment than representing their fellow students.”
Ritchie did not respond to our requests for comment.