Plymouth University: compensation for Wendy Purcell and others after turmoil

Ex v-c picked up £125K for loss of office despite becoming president on v-c salary, while university paid out almost £180K to other departing staff

February 4, 2016
Professor Wendy Purcell
Source: British Council
Trouble at the top: the Plymouth saga began with Purcell’s suspension in 2014

Wendy Purcell, the former Plymouth University vice-chancellor, received £45,000 in performance-related pay and another £125,000 for loss of office in the year she switched to being the institution’s president on her full salary, after a dramatic row.

The university's accounts also reveal that the institution shelled out almost £180,000 in compensation payments for other senior members of staff who left their posts.

Professor Purcell has now left Plymouth entirely, with her role as president having “ceased” on 31 December 2015, the university has confirmed.

Plymouth’s 2014-15 financial statements, published last month, detail some of the costs arising from the dramatic breakdown in relations at the top of the institution.

The Plymouth saga began in July 2014 when the university’s then chair of governors, retired judge William Taylor, suspended Professor Purcell.

Subsequently, allegations emerged that he had sexually harassed female students and members of staff. Mr Taylor, who denies the allegations, stepped down from his role in September 2014.

During the turmoil at the top, it emerged that the university spent £95,000 on seven handcrafted chairs to be used at graduation ceremonies.

Professor Purcell returned to work as vice-chancellor in November 2014, but left the post to become president on 1 January 2015.

A Freedom of Information request in April 2015 revealed that after becoming president she remained on the same £250,000 salary she received as vice-chancellor, despite no longer running the institution.

Plymouth’s financial statement discloses that in the five months that Professor Purcell was vice-chancellor in 2014-15, she was paid a salary of £122,436; “performance-related pay attributable to the prior financial year” of £45,000; pension contributions of £21,032; and benefits in kind of £417.

This adds up to a total package of £188,885 for the five months, even before the salary she would have received as president. Over the course of 2013-14, Professor Purcell’s total remuneration was £303,369.

In addition during 2014-15, “payments totalling £125,000 were made” to her “as compensation for loss of office”, the accounts say.

A Plymouth spokesman said that the performance-related pay was “in recognition of her work as v-c and then more latterly as president”.

He added: “The loss of office payment represents a one-off payment made to Professor Purcell as part of her change in role from vice-chancellor to the university’s president last year.”

In October 2014, a Freedom of Information request revealed that the university’s legal bill in its dealings with Professor Purcell then stood at about £170,000.

A number of other senior figures at Plymouth left amid the fallout from the conflict at the highest levels of the institution. “Compensation payments for loss of office totalling £176,258 were also paid to two members of staff who earned over £100,000 during 2014-15,” say the university’s financial statements.

Judith Petts, formerly pro vice-chancellor for research and enterprise at the University of Southampton, has been appointed the new vice-chancellor of Plymouth and starts this month.

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