Leeds Met expenses probe 'exonerates' Lee

KPMG finds no evidence of wrongdoing, but discovers cases of non-compliant practice among management. Melanie Newman reports

September 11, 2009

An independent review of management expenses at Leeds Metropolitan University has found that staff, including Simon Lee, its former vice-chancellor, bought items on university purchase cards without supplying receipts to justify the expenditure.

But auditors KPMG found no evidence of wrongdoing by Professor Lee, his wife Patricia or senior managers.

The review, which was commissioned by the university, looked at the expenses of Professor Lee and his wife and those of managers in general.

Its findings, released by Leeds Met on 11 September, show that Professor Lee could not produce receipts for about 10 per cent of his non-fuel expenses, totalling about £7,500.

But the auditors were satisfied that "the expenditure was in line with the university's policies and objectives".

Professor Lee and his wife's expenses were reviewed for the period 1 August 2006 to 28 February 2009. The review was requested by the university's audit committee after concerns were raised over Professor Lee's expenditure.

The auditors say: "KPMG has been provided with satisfactory documentary or verbal evidence to demonstrate that Professor Lee's expenses have been claimed in the pursuance of the university's business objectives."

However, Professor Lee used his card on four occasions to pay for items for other people.

"This is not in compliance with university policy, as the member of staff to whom the costs relate needs to authorise each relevant transaction," the auditors' report says.

Questions have also been raised about expenses incurred by Ms Lee, including overseas travel while she was acting as an "ambassador" for Leeds Met.

KPMG says the university's expenses policy did not provide any guidance on spouses' expenses, but there was evidence that Leeds Met had accepted Ms Lee's informal role.

"Evidence and discussions with university staff support the fact that each of [Ms Lee's] trips were in connection with university business or activities," it says.

But it notes that three overseas events had been identified where Ms Lee travelled without her husband, and says there is a "lack of evidence of formal approval of Ms Lee's participation".

KPMG also reviewed 36 managers' card statements and found that 3 per cent of the expenditure was unsupported by receipts or other documentation.

Five items from the statements and 40 expense-claim forms were "not in compliance or not fully covered by the expenses policy", it adds.

Professor Lee told Times Higher Education that he and his wife had been "vindicated".

"Every single item of expenditure was found to be in line with the university¹s objectives. KPMG trawled through my expenses over a three-year period, and every single one stands up. There has been no requirement to pay back money, and the university has conceded that all foreign travel by my wife was appropriate."

Geoff Hitchins, acting vice-chancellor of Leeds Met, issued a statement to staff on 11 September that says: "KPMG's auditing teams found no evidence of fraudulent behaviour, wilful wrongdoing or abuse of funds.

"KPMG found that all expenditure has been in line with meeting the university¹s business objectives, but that sometimes a small number of staff transactions have not been in technical compliance with our policies, or there has been a lack of clarity around some policies."

The university fully accepted every KPMG recommendation, he adds.

"We regret any errors in compliance that there have been, but we are ensuring that policies are clarified and all staff are reminded of procedures and the importance of adhering to them."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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