The UK’s national statistician has been asked to repay £119,000 to Aberdeen University in the wake of a controversy over his departure from the institution.
Sir Ian Diamond, who served as principal of the university for seven years and is now head of the UK Statistics Authority, has been invited to return the money.
Then, in February, Aberdeen University was ordered to hand £119,000 of its grant back to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) after a damning report concluded that it forked out to effectively have two principals in the same post for a year.
University accounts for 2017-18 showed that Sir Ian was getting £601,000 – including a salary of £282,000, pension contributions to the value of £30,000, and contractual notice period payment and related expenses of £289,000.
However, under an agreement struck between the university and Sir Ian, the former principal only triggered his year-long notice period at the moment he was succeeded by George Boyne in the summer of 2018, despite announcing his retirement plans a year earlier.
The SFC found that the university “incurred the cost of two principals” over a financial year as a result of the arrangement, and that there had been “no documented assessment of value for money” before the agreement was reached.
Esther Roberton, senior governor of the university, said its governing court met on Tuesday to consider a report produced by a working group that was set up to consider the findings of the SFC inquiry, and that a series of actions were approved.
“Court also resolved that as the SFC had required the university to repay a proportion of its grant in respect of the settlement made to the former principal, we should invite him to consider a repayment of the same amount to the university,” she said.
“Decisions reported on in the SFC review were taken three years ago. Now the university has new leadership and is progressing with a new strategic vision.”
The university had been told to repay £119,000 of its grant, which it did in February.
The amount was calculated by adding the £289,000 notice payment and £60,000 extra payment, then taking 34% of the sum, which is the proportion of its income which comes from the SFC.
However, SFC chief executive Karen Watt said at the time that the “governance failures” related to the entire university, therefore it may wish to pay a “larger amount” to the SFC or towards a “learning-related activity”.
The working group has now concluded that it “does not consider it appropriate to pay further funds to the SFC” and that the group “also does not consider it appropriate that the university, as an educational charity itself, should divert further funding to other learning-related causes, potentially to the detriment of staff and students”.
The group instead recommended that the university “should formally ask the former principal to return some or all, of the relevant payments made to him”.
It added that the recommendation was made “having taken into account legal advice and having considered the reputation of the institution, in particular the action it believes the university’s staff and students would consider to be appropriate”.