Letter: Failed accountability

July 6, 2001

The events culminating in the out-of-court settlement in favour of Nick Tregoning, Swansea students' union manager, are an object lesson in failed accountability (Whistleblower, THES , June 22).

Swansea students' union has lost upwards of £50,000, almost 15 per cent of the annual grant from the university - and no one has yet apologised to the student body for the loss of services this will entail. Not the officers of the union, who preferred to use the union's money rather than its constitution, and not the university authorities, the body responsible for devising a constitution to protect the large amounts of public funds given to the students' union each year.

At any time, students' union officers could have moved to reduce the costs by dropping the illegal and improper action and seeking resolution under the terms of the constitution. At any time, the university could have invoked its proper fiduciary authority and informed the union officers that, having acted outwith the constitution, they could be held individually responsible for the sums involved.

Almost by definition, elected student officers are inexperienced, untrained and unqualified managers and the university therefore has a special duty of care to ensure that, within an appropriate and non-political range, it can retain some oversight of the public funds it entrusts to them. It partially discharged its duty in this respect through the institution of the constitution. But there is no earthly use in establishing a constitution if one then turns a blind eye to its flagrant abuse.

Those charged with public trust for the appropriate disbursement of funds signally failed to meet that responsibility. Instead, a member of staff was dismissed without a legitimate charge, without a valid case, and the threat of legal action for restitution was avoided by the reckless use of public monies.

At least one formal inquiry should review these matters and the actions of those in positions of responsibility who failed to intervene. The responsible authority in the case of the students' union would be the Charity Commission. Perhaps a different body could consider the remaining matter of considerable concern: that the Council of the University of Wales Swansea has still not taken appropriate action to retrieve the funds employed to cover up this outrageous incident.

I use the term "cover-up" deliberately, for some of the money was used to pay the students' union lawyer to incorporate a gagging clause for the Association of University Teachers local association in a clearly vain attempt to keep relevant facts from public scrutiny. The public and their accountable representatives, however, have a right to know how public money is being used or misused.

Andrew Morgan

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