Expenses scheme exploited by UofG staff

An investigation by The Glasgow Guardian has found that staff at the University have repeatedly broken the expenses policy. Examination of 30,000 separate expense claims in the academic year 21/22  show over 300 filings of subsistence claims exceeding the daily limit, an £8,000 Airbnb and lavish business lunches with no record of the business partners in attendance. When these irregularities were put to the University they said “there is occasional use of incorrect codes,” although “all expenses are scrutinised”; the total claims amounted to  £2,145,379 for the academic year. 

The largest proportion of expenses is made up of subsistence claims, with 9,000 claims totalling £226,722. The rules state that subsistence claims must not exceed £60 a night where an overnight stay is required. Yet there are 371 claims exceeding this. Receipts for these subsistence meals show a £130 porterhouse steak at the Buchershop Glasgow, £200 worth of Pizza in Switzerland and £300 at the Record Factory. One individual claim of subsistence expense amounts to £1880. In regard to this specific claim, the University said “this was for business entertaining/meals, for a large group attending an external event”, meaning that as this claim was filed as subsistence there would have been no requirement to “differentiate between University employees and third parties”, evidently “all expenses are scrutinised”.  The University failed to offer an explanation for the remaining 370 cases of overspending beyond citing that cases are misfiled.  

Of the business meals that were filled a total of £218, 535 was amassed. Despite this, a University spokesperson stated that “we seek to keep hospitality costs to a minimum”.The University does have a stringent policy on business entertainment. There must be a ratio of a maximum of three employees to one external business partner, it is also noted that individuals must be able to prove that the event must be for business purposes.  When we picked four of the two thousand claims in this category at random and requested the business partners in attendance via Freedom of Information Request (FOI) they stated that this information was not available, even though it is a requirement on the online expenses form. One individual filed business lunch expenses totalling £1,152.52 over a three-day period in July last year; including a £604.45 meal at the restaurant Two Fat ladies. There is also a filing for £1136.70 at Straivagan. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a filing for business entertainment of just £15 over a three-day period; the venue of choice is simply noted as Helensburgh. A University spokesperson assured us that “claimants have to differentiate between University employees and third parties”, but as we have shown evidence of this is not available.  

This investigation looked specifically at expenses filled in the last academic year. Rules allow for a three-month window after the event for the expense to be filled although “in a limited number of cases (eg long term absence) this can be waived if fully justified”. There were 26 cases of expenses filled from 2019 in the last academic year that would need to be “fully justified” one of those was for a meal abroad totalling 85 pence. 

The University expenses policy is extensive, even if not stringently followed, however an area that the University does not have a policy for is overnight accommodation. There is no limit on the duration that can be expensed: “Many research trips can involve lengthy stays abroad and accommodation for such visits cannot always be pre-paid. It may be impractical to attempt to place an artificial limit on the length of a stay.” One of the claims uncovered as part of this investigation was an Airbnb in Berlin that cost £8,000, this was for two staff members in a one-bedroom apartment for 175 nights. A duration of stay that is double a required term abroad for language students. The price per night is also not capped with one individual spending 200 euro a night for Sana Rena hotel in Lisbon, which boasts two swimming pools as well as a spa and wellness centre. 

Of the 30,000 claims 2935 are simply categorised as Other expenses, with no greater explanation provided for their use. These claims total over £120,000. 

A number of irregularities have been uncovered by this investigation with a University spokesperson stating that: ““Employees are entitled to be reimbursed for money they spend on important work on behalf of the University. However, we seek to keep hospitality costs to a minimum, with all expenses scrutinised.Two claim types are for ‘subsistence’ (claiming for meals or snacks taken as part of a trip on University business) and ‘business entertaining/meals’ (claiming for an event with more than one participant, which can be part of a wider event or business meal with business partners). Rigorous checks are done to ensure legitimate claims are within the University’s policy, even if there is occasional use of incorrect codes.”

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Dr Ian MacLaren

Plenty of places in Britain and abroad where £60 will not provide you with a night’s hotel accommodation. In fact you’d struggle to find places anywhere in Western Europe or North America where this is sufficient. If anything is wrong there, it is the expenses policy with price limits that are more than 20 years out of date (this would not even buy you a decent hotel stay in central London 20 years ago).

Glasgow Guardian Editors

To clarify £60 is without hotel stay it is intended for meals and other expenses while away and is deemed a maximum rather than an intended budget.

Anna Lumnus

“When we picked four of the two thousand claims in this category at random and requested the business partners in attendance via Freedom of Information Request (FOI) they stated that this information was not available…”
I suspect that revealing names of people in attendance is prevented by data protection/GDPR obligations on the University’s part.

Glasgow Guardian Editors

The exemption applied was that the information was not held, not that they couldn’t due to privacy. Also would be looking for the business or company not necessarily the individual.