UCL is not distrusting, just doing its duty

May 19, 2016

We do not accept the claim in the article “UCL expenses rules mean staff seen as ‘inherently untrustworthy’” (News, 12 May) that the expenses policy at University College London indicates that staff are viewed as “inherently untrustworthy”. The policy simply reflects the reality that we are a publicly accountable organisation, with a duty to ensure that expenses expenditure is appropriate and modest. We would (rightly) expect to be held to account, by, among others, Times Higher Education, if this were not the case. Nor is there any evidence to substantiate the claim that we are “enforcing a tougher expense regime” to fund our expansion in East London.

To provide the context, we began a review of our expenses policy after an internal audit found that we could improve levels of compliance across UCL. The review found that our policy was largely aligned with those in place at comparable institutions, as well as in bodies ranging from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the NHS – no surprise, given that we operate within the same tax laws and HMRC guidelines.

We decided at that point to recirculate to staff the policy, in effect unchanged, and to seek greater compliance with it. I accept that this process could have been better handled – the policy had historically included some anachronistic and trivial rules, which the recirculation of the policy drew attention to, including those on refreshments for meetings that figured prominently in your story.

I believe that the revised policy – signed off last week – addresses these concerns.

With regard to discretionary funds, our existing guidance on their use has not changed, but the expenses policy applies to all money spent by staff, including money held in such accounts. Again, this is standard practice for any organisation entrusted with public or charitable funds and ensures that we meet HMRC requirements, as all universities and public sector organisations are required to do.

Rex Knight
Vice-provost, operations
University College London

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