Staff have spent over £4 million on official University of Manchester credit and purchasing cards so far this year, The Mancunion has learned.
Data revealed by a Freedom of Information request (FOI) sent by The Mancunion shows staff used these cards to pay for expenses such as clothing, entertainment, and private childcare.
Students shared concerns about what they described as “frustrating but unsurprising” costs. The University responded calling all approved transactions “proportionate and for legitimate business purposes.”
One payment of £120 was made to a private nanny agency in London, whilst another showed nearly £4,500 being sent to a Hong Kong private members sports and social club. Collectively, £1,425 has been spent on ‘LEGO’ since January, with one purchase alone at £576. Other purchases include nearly £200 at tailor Moss Bros, and £1,882 at The Crystal Maze, Manchester.
In New York City, employees spent over £5,000 over two visits to an expensive steak house. Other payments were spent on leisure such as Netflix and Spotify subscriptions, £60 on Cath Kidston online, and £375 on meal replacement drink Huel.
Hotel bills featured prominently, with UoM staff racking up a bill of over £69,000 in ‘The Cumberland Hotel’, and £60,000 in the ‘Melia White House Hotel’, London, between January and late September this year.
The data also appeared to show £1,838 in payments to the ‘Conservative Party’ during this time. The university attributed these costs to “Entry to/advertising at party conferences” — no payments to other political parties were evident.
Second-year Law with Politics student Becca Windsor De Taboada said: “That makes me furious. Honestly, as students we fork out a lot of money for the university, and seeing it go to things like this makes my blood boil.
“I had the opportunity to listen to Nancy Rothwell speak to the law faculty and reps last year, where she mentioned the efforts they were taking to avoid cutting pensions and come to a diplomatic agreement with the UCU. The fact that so much money is being wasted when staff are actively having their pensions and pay cut shows a lack of perspective.
“The University is a place for academic research and education. It is not an excuse to spend £5000 on steak.”
A University spokesperson said: “All approved claims at the University are proportionate and for legitimate business purposes which include travel, conferences, teaching, and research. For instance, the claims highlighted by The Mancunion for LEGO were used to buy materials for outreach activities for young people.”
The private nanny agency was described as “Support for staff with caring responsibilities to enable them to attend a laboratory meeting on an exceptional basis”, and the transaction at Hong Kong Football Club as “Conferencing venue hire for an alumni reception.”
The LEGO purchases were attributed to “Robotics research/outreach activities”, and Moss Bros was used for “Formal attire for university event.” Payments at The Crystal Maze were for “Team-building activities”.
£2,350 has been spent at a variety of wine merchants since January, a cost which the University told us went towards “Gifts for visiting speakers/wine glass hire for events.”
Second-year, English Literature and American Studies student Liv Stringer told us: “This makes me feel extremely angry, especially since as an English student I’m paying £9000 for 9 hours of teaching a week, and we have to spend hundreds of pounds a year on buying our own books.”
The University also included their purchasing card guidance notes with the FOI, which in their ‘Don’t’ section told staff to avoid “payments for goods /services through PayPal.” Despite this, over 500 purchases have been made through PayPal since January, calling into question the scrutiny purchases are put under. The university defended the transactions, stating: “Paypal can be used as a payment platform, for instance where the purchase method being offered only has ‘use Paypal’ as a payment option.”
Despite the fact that many of the expenses The Mancunion called into question have been met with satisfactory answers, students still seemingly question the overall spending on staff expenses.
The University said there are currently 243 active Purchasing cards and 289 active Corporate Credit Cards. They confirmed that no action had been taken over the purchases made: “No procurement card or corporate credit card holder has been reprimanded over the use of their card.
“Established processes exist to ensure that all transactions are bona fide and as per University regulations.”