LJMU broke guidelines with 'beyond modest'gifts

July 28, 2006

Liverpool John Moores University broke anti-fraud guidelines when senior staff accepted expensive gifts and hospitality from major suppliers.

Documents released to The Times Higher under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the university has completed a major reform of policies and procedures for receiving gifts and hospitality.

The reform followed the discovery of widespread control weaknesses in a review of procedures ordered by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

A whistleblower revealed to Hefce that senior finance staff had accepted gifts from the university's legal advisers, travel agents and from accountancy firms that the council said were "clearly beyond modest hospitality" and should not have been accepted under its rules.

Gifts that had been recorded included regular foreign junkets, tickets to major football tournaments and even tickets for a concert by the pop star Robbie Williams.

The university said this week that neither Hefce nor the university's internal auditors had found evidence of impropriety or abuse of the gifts and hospitality process.

According to a dossier of paperwork on the problem released this week to The Times Higher , Paul Greaves, Hefce's head of assurance and audit, wrote to the university in July 2004 about concerns a whistleblower had raised with him.

He said receiving gifts "can give rise to perceptions of impropriety in relations between universities and companies that supply goods or services to it".

He listed seven examples, including a trip to California benefiting the exchequer services manager, a trip to Haydock Park races, a ticket to the Euro 1996 football semi-final for the finance director.

Brian Kerrigan, director of corporate services, mounted a robust defence of practices at the university, insisting that it was policy to allow such gifts "as a way of fostering good working relationships and facilitating good communication and understanding" with service providers and said that all major contracts were put out to competitive tender.

But Mr Greaves was not happy with the response and said that the gifts should have been refused under Hefce guidelines, adding: The firms expect a benefit and this is usually in the form of new, repeat or continuing business."

A review by the university's internal auditors, Deloitte, took place in early 2005 and reported in June 2005. It found "weaknesses" and "a level of noncompliance" in the system of internal controls over gifts and hospitality.

Hefce said this week that it was content that the university had responded to its concerns in an appropriate manner to ensure proper management of its gifts and hospitality policy and practice.

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