Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 14:30 UK

University credit spend reviewed

Professor Simon Lee
Simon Lee had 'transformed' the university, its chief executive said

A university is reviewing its use of credit cards after it emerged trips for the vice-chancellor's wife were among £5m spent in two and a half years.

Leeds Metropolitan University has asked auditors KPMG to review procedures on the use of its 150 staff credit cards.

The university's annual turnover is around £170m a year, just under half of which is received from public funds.

A spokesperson for the university said the spending was in line with other institutions of a similar size.

Patricia Lee, who has no formal role at the university, travelled to countries such as Ethiopia and Zambia and attended a Bollywood film ceremony in Thailand to "raise the profile of the institution", it said.

A spokesman for the university said there were "a small number of occasions" where the wife of the vice-chancellor had travelled abroad on her own.

But this was always on university business, he said.

"It is a judgement call for the vice-chancellor to make," he continued, "as to whether he would like his wife to accompany him, or perhaps represent him, and this would be considered on a case-by-case basis".

This did not breach any spending guidelines, he said, adding that the university had a partnership with certain Bollywood producers.

He said 150 members of staff out of 3,000 had access to business credit cards.

The purchases were revealed after the Yorkshire Post newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.

Scrutiny

Leeds Metropolitan University has brought forward an audit by accountants KPMG to look at the use of government procurement credit cards.

The review, which is yet to be published in full, has provisionally concluded that general use is "satisfactory", but will recommend curbing the use of credit cards to withdraw cash abroad, the university spokesman said.

And it recommended more attention be paid to the way staff with credit cards were reminded about guidelines for using them.

The university's chief executive, Dr Geoff Hitchins, said:

"We welcome public scrutiny and inspection of our finances and instructed our auditors, KPMG, to conduct a review of the use of government procurement cards.

"Professor Lee was appointed to transform this university and he has done that fully supported by his wife who gave her time freely. I have also confirmed that our commitment to a range of pioneering partnerships will continue."

He said just 1% of transactions had given any cause for query.

The university spokesman said where any single purchase was to exceed £5,000, the purchaser would have to get three different quotes before going ahead.

The government procurement cards were offered to universities as an "efficient and transparent means of making large purchases".

Simon Lee resigned as vice-chancellor in January on full pay pending an investigation into allegations about his treatment of some members of staff.

Shadow Universities Secretary David Willetts said: "These are very serious allegations which do cause me concern. It is important that the spending on these cards is clarified as quickly as possible.

"We hope that the university's audit will provide the answers to the concerns that have been raised."



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