August 10, 2001

Disability code 'lacking'

A blind academic has accused Cambridge University of propagating a "desperate" environment for disabled staff.

Roger Tapp, a physiologist at the university who suffers from the progressive genetic condition pseudoxanthoma elasticum, revealed in a public Senate House discussion that he has been diagnosed as clinically depressed after a long history of disputes with his employers.

Dr Tapp said last week that disabled staff were entirely "dependent on the goodwill and support of employers" and that the university's machinery was seriously lacking. He said the university lacked appropriate structures to support disabled staff, staff lacked proper training in disability awareness and its grievance procedures were inadequate to deal with the issues.

Dr Tapp, who suffers from restricted mobility, explained that when he was registered blind in 1994, his then head of department, Ian Glynn, had been supportive. Although he could no longer conduct research as a histologist, which required "looking down microscopes", he was given teaching responsibilities on a course he had developed.

But a new head of department removed these teaching duties as part of a general reduction of histology teaching and, despite Dr Tapp's objections, he transferred the remaining work to a colleague. Dr Tapp found his new responsibilities difficult and felt they were designed to exclude him.

He filed a grievance, which was blocked in favour of talks under the university's code of conduct on disability, but he found them "ponderous" and said they failed to "cope in time to stop changes that have the most devastating effects" on careers. He pulled out of the talks and lodged a complaint under "statute K5", a university statute that allows for an investigation by the vice-chancellor into the application of university procedures. But this was rejected on the grounds that the university's disability code was for guidance and was not enforceable.

"The existing provisions do not work effectively, are too ponderous to prevent discrimination and give far too much control to heads of department," Dr Tapp told the senate.

Cambridge published Dr Tapp's Senate House speech in the university Reporter. It made no comment on Dr Tapp's complaints.

Watchdog criticises union secretary

The trade union watchdog has criticised Roger Lyons, general secretary of the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, in a report into expenses claims and financial accountability at the union.

In the report, trade union certification officer Ted Whybrew criticised Mr Lyons for taking unauthorised interest-free loans from the union. Inquiries focused on loans of £4,000 and £2,000 from union funds and £10,000 of expenses claimed by Mr Lyons over 20 months in 1997-98. Mr Lyons described the loans as "salary advances". But Mr Whybrew said they should have been approved by the general purposes and finance committee. They have been repaid and union procedures tightened.

Mr Whybrew said: "Although no rules were broken, my impression is that Mr Lyons appeared to treat the expenses system of the union and its provision of a chauffeur as one of the perks of office... An extensive and detailed examination... has failed to determine whether or not he claimed more in expenses than he actually spent." Mr Whybrew said that Mr Lyons's variety of explanations, including the transfer of cash within his family, could remove the discrepancies.

He rejected other allegations against Mr Lyons, including claims that he used union funds to improve his homes in England and in France and that he received payments from undisclosed bank accounts. Mr Whybrew declined to appoint formal investigators.

An MSF spokesman said: "We are happy that Roger and MSF have been cleared of all wrongdoing."

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