Ludo Thierry

There’s a rather complex story being carried by beeb Scotland about the Scottish Funding Council recouping £119,000 of grant previously given to Aberdeen University. The funding has been pulled back due to highly questionable (and lacking transparency) retirement payment arrangements made with the former University Principal. (Naturally – once expensively ‘retired’ the individual concerned takes up another ‘big job’ – this time heading up the UK Statistics Authority.)

To my mind the most salient (and encouraging) issue is that the Scottish Funding Council (backed hard by the Cabinet Secretary) are, finally, daring to question things and ruffle some feathers. For far, far, too long the Scottish Universities’ senior management teams have been able to arrange these remuneration packages to, seemingly, suit themselves with no obvious scrutiny or accountability in place. Here’s hoping this might be the start of a trend. The Aberdeen Evening Express version is rather better delineated than the beeb’s messy reportage. Link and snippets below:

The University of Aberdeen confirmed £119,000 has been handed over (returned to the Scottish Funding Council) following a review of the settlement agreed with Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

Sir Ian, who first revealed his intention to retire in August 2017, received £610,000 in remuneration for 2017-18, as well as a £60,000 payment for “outplacement support”.

(NOTE: He became chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority after he retired from the university).

The SFC said it had decided to review the payment “because the financial statements did not appear to accord with our understanding of the principal’s retirement and we were not satisfied with the university’s response to our initial inquiries”.

It found that when it came to approving the terms of the settlement agreement there was no “documented assessment of value for money”.

The University of Aberdeen paid for two principals in 2018-19, it was noted, with Sir Ian on “gardening leave” while his successor was in place.

The SFC said: “By defining the former principal’s ‘formal’ notice date as the date immediately preceding both the successor principal taking up his post and the former principal moving to a 12-month period of ‘gardening leave’, the university incurred the cost of two principals over the 2018-19 financial year.

“In addition, over the 2017-18 financial year, the principal received his full salary while having significantly fewer duties and responsibilities than those constituting the full role of principal, and we have seen no evidence that the value for money consequences of that arrangement were assessed.”

Higher education minister Richard Lochhead said it was “clearly unacceptable that the University of Aberdeen did not meet its grant conditions, nor the highest standards of transparency that we expect of organisations which benefit from public funds”.

He said: “The report finds that payments were made to Professor Diamond without appropriate approvals and without documented assessment of value for money.

“I do not believe the impact should be borne by the student or staff bodies and I therefore urge the university to consider whether it can recoup these funds.” (ie get the dough back from the retired Prof. Sir Ian Diamond – should we hold our collective breath? – always worth asking, I suppose.)