April 23, 2009

Auditors called in over bill for exotic holidays taken by former university chief's wife

An investigation has been ordered into multi-million pound bill run up by a university's staff on official credit cards, including exotic foreign trips by the controversial vice-chancellor's wife.

Around £5million was spent over a two-and-a-half year period on everything from tickets to the Olympic Games in China to payment for a professor's parking fines, it has been revealed.

The cards were used to fund trips to Bavaria, Ethiopia, Thailand and France by Patricia Lee, wife of the £300,000 a year Leeds Metropolitan University boss - Simon Lee - who resigned in January amid allegations about his treatment of staff.

Mrs Lee, who has no official post at the university, went on some of the foreign trips without her husband and the full cost of her travel to the taxpayer has not been disclosed.

The university, which has around 30,000 staff, receives half its £160million annual budget from public funds.

Details of the high spending at public expense have emerged from the disclosure of credit card statements to the Yorkshire Post under the Freedom of Information Act. It has prompted the university's management to ask its auditors to carry out an investigation into credit card spending by staff.

But the university claimed spending using official purchasing cards - intending to cut through red tape and reduce administration costs for business purchases - was in line with other universities.

An interim report has indicated no serious problems with expenses and no evidence of fraud or misuse of funds, a university spokesman said.

Last summer Mrs Lee went with a group of staff and students to Bangkok to 'rub shoulders with champions of Indian cinema' as part of the preparations for the Bollywood awards ceremony - the equivalent of the Oscars.

The £1,324 cost of the flight appears on a PA's credit card and the cost of Mrs Lee's accommodation is not known. A week later Mrs Lee was with 24 graduate trainees and staff in Bavaria for a trip costing £8,000.

The university helps fund a centre in the foothills of the Alps which provides leadership and management training.

Leeds Metropolitan University has asked its auditors to carry out an investigation into credit card spending by staff. She wrote on the university's website that the trip to the beauty spot was 'the realisation of a teenage dream.'

The party also visited Schloss Neuschwanstein, one of the world's most famous and spectacular castles.

A month earlier in May Mrs Lee accompanied her husband to Ethiopia at the invitation of athlete Haile Gebrselassie, in connection with the university's African partnership programme.

Six months later she returned with a party of staff and students but without Mr Lee, following another invitation from the world record breaker, this time in connection with the Great Ethiopia Run.

The £1,671 cost of her accommodation at the Addis Ababa Hilton hotel was reportedly on a staff member's credit card who also went on the trip. Her remaining travel costs and who paid for them are not known.

The report also details a trip in February 2007 to Limoges, France, which Mrs Lee went on with two members of staff. The £500 credit card costs did not include accommodation.

The university is still awaiting further information about the £20,000 spent by Mr Lee the outgoing vice-chancellor. It includes £1,000 spent on three meals at a restaurant called Brio.. Other spending by 190 university card holders between May 2006 and December last year included the payment of at least six parking fines.

Leeds Met said it spent £40,000 sending staff to the Olympics to raise the university's profile as a coaching centre of excellence (£8,000 on tickets were put on one card alone).

The university was a sponsor of the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley and it spent £2,550 on tickets for the August event - which did not include the 400 tickets it received under the sponsorship deal.

Among the biggest single transactions were £8,500 for the purchase of a VW campervan, used as a mobile exhibition unit at music festivals and events, and £11,800 on publicity material for the crowd at the Leeds Rhinos v Melbourne World Club Challenge rugby league match it sponsored.

One faculty PA spent £671 on 42 bottles of Champagne for staff leaving the university. And £179 was spent at Debenhams on a suit for a chef.

David Willetts, the shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, said: 'These are very serious allegations which do cause me concern. It is important the spending on these is clarified as quickly as possible.'

From: http://www.dailymail.co.uk

Also: Exclusive: Leeds Met's champagne and travel spending spree exposed

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an individual who is being paid £300k a year.It beggars belief that this has been allowed to happen. It is time that the board of Governor were replaced by individuals with the university's interests at heart and not by a bunch of self serving parasites using the board as a businessman club. We might never get to the bottom of this sorry tale of corruption. There must be enough evidence here for a criminal investigation.