Blogging from the Murcia region of Spain until early June, when I return to the Highlands of Scotland for a few months
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Monday, 3 August 2009

Dodgy expenses claims infect academia, too

We've been hearing a lot in recent months about the, ahem, 'padding' of expenses by certain MPs, now I come across what seems to be questionnable claims by an academic.

Professor Peter Gregson is vice-chancellor at Queen's University. For anyone who doesn't, by chance, know it this is located in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It seems the university is funding his membership of the Athenaeum, an exclusive private member club in London; it has bedroom accommodation bookable by members, just like an hotel, when rooms are not already booked.

Anyway, accepting for a moment that Professor Gregson requires to visit London on a reasonably frequent basis in connection with his university employment, perhaps the membership is justified, given that room costs in a private club tend to be more reasonable in cost, particularly when compared with hotels in similar parts of London's clubland. Some clubs [traditionally] have mediocre dining arrangements, but others maintain fine tables and from all that I have ever heard, the Athenaeum is certainly amongst the latter. Passing on, though.

This matter has come to light as a result of a 'freedom of information' inquiry by the Irish News newspaper. Professor Gregson has, according to the information revealed about his expenses, however, also made claims for 'at least two out of five recent visits to the capital city when he stayed in a[n] hotel'. And not just any old hotel either. No sirree! Professor Gregson likes to do things in style. For example on 23rd October last he claimed for a night at the 5-star Mayfair Hotel (part of the Radisson Hotels group). I certainly don't begrudge the man his 'perks' within reason, but it does look a little as if he is going slightly over the top - I think there are perfectly comfortable, but somewhat less epxensive, hotels in that part of London where he could stay should the Athenaeum not have a room available when he needs to be there for professional purposes - but on that point his expenses claim seem to be silent, making one wonder just what is the necessity for these regular visits; do they not have telephones or video-conference facilities at Queen's? Or are these visits, in reality, purely 'social' in that they permit him and other academics to swan around the swankier parts of the capital city at public expense, whilst enjoying fine dinners together? Just asking ...

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