The University of Bolton is spending about £100,000 to take all 700 of its staff for an overnight stay in the Lake District so that they can hear from the vice-chancellor about the strategic aims of the institution.
The university’s “staff development programme” has been running since September. It will conclude in May after 20 meetings have taken place. All staff are expected to stay for a night at the four-star Lakeside Hotel on the shore of Lake Windermere, some 70 miles outside Bolton, where a room with a view of the lake usually costs about £220 a night.
George Holmes, vice-chancellor of the university since 2006, owns a yacht that is currently moored at a marina on the lake. A spokesman for the institution said that “for the avoidance of doubt, the yacht belongs to the vice-chancellor personally and is operated, maintained and moored at the vice-chancellor’s own expense”. The craft is not university property and has “no relevance” to the staff development programme, he added.
A source at the university said that employees were “amazed” that they were being asked to travel so far for the vice-chancellor’s presentation because the programme “must cost a fortune”.
“The university considers this an appropriate developmental investment in staff to underpin the growing strength of the university,” explained the university spokesman, who put the cost of the programme at “circa £100,000”. “This investment in staff is concurrent with a multimillion-pound investment in our teaching and learning infrastructure.”
Home and salon
Last month, it emerged that the university had loaned £960,000 to Professor Holmes to assist his purchase of a “luxurious Edwardian house” located close to the campus. He had previously been commuting to Bolton from Yorkshire.
In an email sent to staff earlier this year, Professor Holmes says that his new house will be both his “personal home” and an “entertaining space” for the university’s new directorate for institutional advancement, led by Aris Mattheou, who took up the role at the start of the year.
“Consequently many VIP dinners and events will be hosted [at the new house] out of office hours”, the email says.
It adds that the situation is “very usual in the larger more established universities who themselves often provide university residencies for their vice-chancellor”.
A source at the university said that staff were wondering why the vice-chancellor’s office suite could not be used for such affairs. The university spokesman said that the suite “does not have a fully functioning kitchen facility with appropriate equipment for ease of hosting such events”.
“A VIP dinner may be held at the vice-chancellor’s home where the university considers the nature of the event requires a less formal and functional setting,” he added. “No additional budget has been allocated to the facilities department for entertaining as a result of the acquisition of the vice-chancellor’s home.”