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Freebies for Farthing – Vice Chancellor Michael Farthing treated to opera tickets, presidential dinner by external companies

University senior management figures were treated last year to opera tickets, presidential dinners and hospitality at the O2 arena by external companies, only months after staff were denied a real terms pay rise.

The Badger obtained the University of Sussex 2012-14 hospitality register, a record of gifts received by University employees from external organisations, through a Freedom of Information request.

The University website states: “The main aim of the Register is to create transparency about hospitality received so that there are no grounds for suspicion about influence on University decisions as a result of hospitality.”

However, unlike other organisations such as the ICO and gov.uk, the Register was not made publicly available until this request.

Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing and his wife Dr Alison McLean were treated to various forms of hospitality including two performances and dinners at opera venue Glyndebourne, with the cost of the ticket and meal for one of the evenings estimated to be around £450. Farthing did not submit an estimated cost for the second evening.

Other gifts included a £50 M&S voucher and a presidential dinner at the annual United European Gastroenology (UEG) Conference in Vienna City Hall in 2014, an organisation for which Professor Farthing is the President of. The estimated cost of this dinner was not included.

The most frequently appearing department on the Register was Research and Enterprise Services, directed by Ian Carter.

There were 13 accounted instances of hospitality across one year, more than double of the second highest appearing department, IT services, who recorded six instances of hospitality.

None of the registered benefactions to Research and Enterprise Services provided an estimated figure of how much was spent.

In the last two month of 2014, Allan Spencer, the University Head of Finance, received tickets and hospitality to the ATP tennis world tour finals at the O2 arena from Barclays Bank and dinner at the City Social restaurant in London from Chartwells, the company who the University outsourced their food services to.

Hospitality Register

A group of University librarians were treated to a Monty Python show at the O2 Arena by rare book and manuscript specialist Bernard Quaritch Ltd in July 2014, while some of the IT services team enjoyed a day of rugby at Twickenham in November courtesy of software company WhereScape.

A professor from the School of Education and Social Work was gifted a £250 Microsoft tablet, only to give it away to someone outside of the University.

It is only possible to calculate the total cost for 22 per cent of all the additional hospitality benefits that University staff enjoyed over the past two years. This is because only seven of the 32 items in the Register have had an amount declared for them. The total amount of these seven is £1,310.

Sussex University and College Union (UCU) told The Badger: “As wages stagnate and pensions values decline, there is a clear expectation that the University Senior Management does not antagonise its staff, many of whom are on very poor hourly rates, or the students who face significant debts as a result of their higher education, by failing to be completely transparent about all their expenses.”

A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “Values are included or estimated in individual entries where possible. It would be quite hard to estimate the additional items without enquiring about each individual item or event to the gift givers or event organisers.”

The University website states that “modest hospitality is an accepted part of business relationships” but that “the scale of hospitality accepted should not be significantly greater that the university would provide in return.”

Phoebe Day and Mia Blakeney

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