Galway University Foundation said last evening that it will work to provide updates on all of the spending matters raised in an investigation by the Charities Regulator.
In a report on the probe, the regulator said it was highlighting the Foundation’s spending on five-star accommodation, business class flights, taxi fares and the use of tickets to rugby matches and race meetings as donor acknowledgement.
The investigation reported that some of the spending was “inconsistent” with value for money policies. The probe commenced following concerns two years ago over hospitality and travel expenses paid by the Foundation. Universities worldwide in general have foundations set up to fundraise for infrastructure and research, which are technically separate but closely linked to the university.
The report puts forward two areas where the inspectors feel that improvements could be made and last evening Galway University Foundation confirmed to the Advertiser that it has fully addressed both of these areas.
It said it welcomed the publication of the regulator’s report.
“As requested, we will provide the Charities Regulator with an update on the matters raised in the report.”
Raised €146 million for NUI Galway
The report stated that in general, the foundation is well run and professional and that since its foundation more than two decades ago, has raised over €146 million in support of NUI Galway.
The Foundation has confirmed to the Advertiser that 100 per cent of all donor funds were invested directly in these projects and that the average administrative expenditure as a percentage of total income was 15 per cent, well below both national and international comparators.
These funds have leveraged matching funding of €65 million from public and other sources and the combined funds have enabled the university to invest €200 million in research, training, and educational access.
The report found over €48,000 had been spent by Galway University Foundation on business class flights between 2015 and 2017. It found on average €385 a night was spent on hotels when they were used with a mix of four and five star hotels used, which was “in excess of Revenue guidelines for overseas travel”.
When interviewed by the regulator over the spending on premium travel, Dr Jim Browne, who was the NUI Galway president and foundation director during the period, said “We are expected to be ready for meetings, being there is important and being tired is not giving our best,” the report said.
“The use of business class travel within the charity appeared to form a substantial percentage of flights taken (30 to 40 per cent of flights taken ) by certain individuals,” the report found. The spending on high end hotels and business class flights was “inconsistent with general best practice and value for money considerations,” it said.
The charity spent over €10,000 on ten trips flying directors’ spouses to destinations including New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the majority of which were business class flights.
The report also found over the three year period more than €30,000 was spent on taxi fares, with “no substantial backup documentation on file” for the purpose of the trips and need to travel by taxi.
Dr Browne travelled in 77 of the 102 taxi trips with most of the journeys being between Dublin and Galway. He told regulator officials his role was a “demanding one” with events often in the evenings followed by early morning meetings elsewhere, the report said.
The former NUIG president said “it was more efficient and safer to avail of a driver than to risk driving when tired”, and taxis were used when he “could not use public transport to meet the requirements of his diary”.
The regulator’s report concluded the “use of charitable monies on a taxi service for long distance travel is generally inconsistent with value for money considerations”.
In response, the Foundation pointed out last evening that paragraph 3.2.6 of the report explains that the marginal cost of the taxis is actually €4,192 for the full three year period under review.
The report also criticised the lack of effective oversight of spending on “donor acknowledgement,” noting over €61,000 was spent on the Galway Races over the three years, and nearly €10,000 on tickets to international Ireland rugby matches.
The regulator’s inspector also noted that in many respects the “charity appears to be a well run organisation,” but improvements were needed in how the use of taxis were justified and documented, and there needed to be clearer distinctions between when staff were acting on business for the foundation and for the university.
The regulator said while a level of donor entertainment was often required when fundraising, there was a reputational risk if the spending “appears to be excessive,” the report said.