Perth College bosses have been slammed after claiming thousands of pounds in expenses for business class flights to China during a cash crisis.
Senior management officials, including college principal Dr Margaret Cook, made multiple long haul flights to Asia during the 18/19 academic year, claiming business class trips at a time when jobs were on the line at the college.
Earlier this year the college closed its three learning centres in Perthshire, blaming “significant financial challenges” and in October Dr Cook announced 21 staff redundancies at the school.
Speaking in October, Dr Cook said: “Absorbing the operating costs has become extremely challenging and we need to identify ways of reducing our costs going forward.”
Dr Cook, who is paid £108,000 per year by the college, claimed £4,100 for two return trips to China in 18/19 and was also part of an additional group booking of £2,049.71 when she was the only member of staff to fly business class, while the rest sat in economy.
The reason for all flights by senior management was ‘student recruitment’, according to the response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
A leading teacher’s union has questioned the need for the business class flights and called for more transparency from college bosses.
A spokesperson for EIS FELA, whose members voted unanimously in October to back a vote of no confidence in senior management, said: “There are transparency issues relating to who sanctioned this spending and was other vital spending withdrawn as a result?
“EIS have questioned the necessity of the principal and vice-principal both attending a graduation ceremony in China at a time when we are facing a financial catastrophe with budgets for teaching being slashed and staff facing the risk of redundancy.
“Why are teaching staff travelling economy to China to deliver our core business whilst the principal travels business class for what is essentially a meeting?
“Not only are we not following our own policy relating to international travel, but EIS FELA feel it is unacceptable that it is one rule for management and one for staff.”
Perth College has defended the expenses from senior management, claiming the revenue made from from the trips far exceeds the expenditure.
A college spokesperson said: “The college’s international activity is funded commercially.
“The revenue generated from this international business is in excess of £700,000 annually.
“These average £50,000 per annum travel expenses are legitimate business expenses that support the generation and delivery of this revenue.
“In financially challenging times, it is crucial that the college targets additional sources of revenue in order to remain financially sustainable.
“Growing Perth College UHI’s international student numbers and international partnerships is a key priority in our strategic plan and reduces the reliance on increasingly scarce sources of public finance.”