One of the five members of the University of Bath’s remuneration committee, which decides senior pay at the institution, formerly led a construction company that has won contracts worth £64 million from the university.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England is investigating governance at Bath, following a complaint by Labour peer Lord Adonis about what he sees as failures in setting the pay of vice-chancellor Dame Glynis Breakwell.
Dame Glynis received an 11 per cent rise in 2015-16 that took her salary to £451,000 and made her the UK's highest-paid vice-chancellor, as Times Higher Education revealed.
Dame Glynis is a member of the five-strong remuneration committee that sets pay awards for the vice-chancellor, the deputy vice-chancellor, the pro vice-chancellors, the deans, the university secretary, the director of finance and the director of estates. However, she ceases to be a member of the committee when her own pay is under discussion and withdraws from meetings.
Of the four other members, one is John Stanion, who announced in October 2014 that he was retiring as chairman and chief executive of Vinci Construction UK, after 22 years with the firm.
Mr Stanion joined Bath’s governing council in 2012, and he joined the remuneration committee in 2015.
In October 2012, it was announced that Bath had signed a £16 million building contract with Vinci. In November 2014, Bath appointed Vinci to build a £20 million teaching and research building, and another £27.5 million contract between the two was announced in March 2017.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by any party. Mr Stanion joined the remuneration committee after Dame Glynis’ 2015-16 pay package would have been decided, and his role is not thought to be a subject of the Hefce investigation. But some at Bath question whether the university could have been more alert to any possibility that perceptions of any potential conflict of interest could arise.
The focus of the Hefce investigation is thought to include, but to not be limited to, the university court meeting of 23 February at which a motion was proposed to express concern to council “at the lack of transparency and accountability of the remuneration committee and the decisions the remuneration committee has made in the past year”.
The motion was defeated by 33 votes to 30. Joe Rayment, a former Bath member of staff who proposed the motion, has written to Hefce claiming that those voting included Dame Glynis and “at least five others whose pay is set by the remuneration committee, and two other members of the remuneration committee. The result of that vote is therefore questionable.”
According to some at the university, there are no standing orders for the court, which would set out a process for dealing with potential conflicts of interest.
Mr Rayment says in his letter to Hefce that “the governance structures no longer hold the executive to account as they should, but instead have become a fortress – keeping all scrutiny and accountability at bay”.
A Bath spokesman said: “We are providing Hefce with all the information they have requested, including in relation to meetings of university court.”
The spokesman added: "When awarding construction contracts, the university’s competitive tendering process is carried out in accordance with public sector procurement frameworks and principles of being open, fair and transparent."