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Old boys’ clubs and toilet brushes: how college bosses spend your money

Freedom of Information requests reveal the expenses claims of college heads

Oxford college heads claim everything from visits to exclusive gentlemen’s clubs to toilet brushes on expenses, Cherwell can reveal, with one warden racking up almost £25,000 in expenses over a single financial year.

The expense details, gathered by Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, uncover the global exploits of college principals, masters, and rectors. However, the fact that over half of colleges failed to respond will raise further questions on the transparency of the University’s finances.

In April 2016, the former warden of New College, Sir Curtis Price, spent £735.22 at the Knickerbocker Club – the famously secretive New York gentlemen’s club, whose previous members include President Franklin D. Roosevelt – which he charged to college expenses.

Three days later, he splashed almost £500 at the Chicago branch of Soho House – a global chain of highly selective private members’ clubs, whose London branch played host to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s first date. The bill was, once again, footed by New College.

This was in between a stay at a deluxe Washington D.C. mega-hotel, the Omni Shoreham, where he charged £736.50 to his expenses.

His successor as warden, Miles Young, seems to have less lavish spending habits, though he did file a £20 charge for toilet brushes for his lodgings. New College and Sir Curtis Price did not respond to Cherwell’s request for comment.

In September 2015, Sir Nigel Shadbolt – Principal of Jesus College and Professorial Research Fellow in the Department of Computer Science – claimed £83.80 to pay for his wife, Lady Shadbolt, to visit his lodgings.

The next month, he paid an additional £68.10 to bring her over for a “drinks party”, for which he also claimed her parking fee.

He also claimed £19.75 for an item for his lodgings from the Futon Company, and a £50 delivery charge for a mirror. Neither Jesus College or Sir Shadbolt responded to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the principal of St Edmund Hall and Oxford professor of molecular microbiology, Keith Gull, claimed almost £500 in “Christmas presents” and “gifts” between November and December 2015.

Gull also claimed £185 on a desk lamp in November 2017. Gull told Cherwell: “The Christmas presents are chocolates etc. that the Principal gives each Christmas to all staff in the College.”

Of the responses Cherwell received, the highest expense claims for a single year was for Wadham’s Lord Ken MacDonald. During the 2015-16 financial year, his total expenses came to £23,265.55, most of which were accounted for by shared trips to Hong Kong and the USA.

However, despite their legal obligations to respond thoroughly to FOI requests, many colleges failed to provide a transparent view of the expenses and remuneration packages of their college heads.

Several colleges failed to reveal the detailed claims of their most senior staff, instead only providing the total annual figures for expenses claimed.

Others did provide broad categories, such as ‘Travel’ and ‘Sustenance’, but did not provide a detailed breakdown of claims as requested.

Still more did not reply to Cherwell’s FOI requests at all, despite the statutory deadline passing some time ago.

Last year, Cherwell revealed that Oxford vice chancellor Louise Richardson had claimed nearly £70,000 on expenses since her appointment in 2016.

The figures showed that the University spent £30,818 on Richardson’s travel, accommodation, and hospitality in the seven months since taking the job. A further £38,339 were claimed in total expenses in the first part of the following financial year.

The University took a similar stance to most of its colleges, however, by refusing to give a detailed breakdown of Richardson’s expense claims.

This differs from the information release policies of other UK universities. A previous request to the vice chancellors of Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities led to a full breakdown of expenses, including receipts for the purchase of a slice of cake and a bottle of water.

At the time, an Oxford University spokesperson told Cherwell: “The vice chancellor’s expenses reflect her role at the head of a £1.4bn organisation with global responsibilities.

“She has regular commitments representing the University internationally, and all expenses are kept to a minimum – for example, the vice chancellor flies economy class on all trips within Europe and within the US.”

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