Portsmouth v-c called to account

November 11, 1994

Neil Merritt, vice chancellor of Portsmouth University, confessed to staff this week that he had been guilty of substantial "errors of judgement" in the way he handled his travel expenses.

Mr Merritt has been reprimanded by the chairman of governors. He said in his letter to staff that "in the final analysis there had been no misuse of public funds".

The auditors had, he said, looked at his expenses claims, including travel and accommodation, use of the university car, his work as chairman of Hillingdon Hospital Trust and hospitality. On two trips to Egypt and Malaysia he had substituted two economy fares for his executive class ticket so as to take his wife with him and had spent the extra cash on other expenses.

The university is already at the centre of a controversy over the sudden redundancy of its deputy vice chancellor, John Pickering. His solicitors, Keeler West Partnership, have threatened proceedings for libel because they claim that a report circulated to all staff implied Professor Pickering was guilty of fina-ncial impropriety. They want the university to issue an apology which could then be circulated widely.

Last week one of the staff governors called for an investigation by the Higher Education Funding Council. The joint trade union committee at Portsmouth has now called for a public inquiry into the governors, and the governance and management of the university. It is organising a vote of no confidence in Mr Merritt.

Dave Fysh, the chair of the committee, said that they felt the vice chancellor should resign, although the chair of the governors said they were satisfied and so was the HEFCE. "We feel there is a connection between this confession and what happened to Professor Pickering. His post was made redundant following a private meeting of the directorate which met after the audit committee had produced its report."

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