The Pontio Arts and Innovations Centre building project recently took another hit when S4C’s Y Byd ar Bedwar’s revealed Bangor University executive director of Development, Sheila O’Neal’s, spending spree, which was involved with the project.
Between October 2013 and December 2014, O’Neal spent:
- £1,320 on taxis
- £14,677 on hotels
- £19,077 on flights
- £5,428 on food and drink
A university spokesperson stated: “Expenses connected to this job are higher than other roles within the university however; this is because it is pursuing an ambitious fundraising programme.”
The spokesperson also pointed out the £2.2m in funding that has been raised since O’Neal was appointed in 2013.
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request also uncovered the £10,487.68 spent on sending four senior members of Bangor staff, including the university vice-chancellor Professor John G Hughes, his wife, director of International Development Dr Xinyu Wu, Artistic director of the Pontio centre, Elen ap Robert and Ms O’Neal, to New York, where they saw Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfel in a Broadway show.
Ironically the opera singer was scheduled to feature in the planned opening of the Arts centre on 17th October last year. The opening gala was cancelled only weeks before due to delays in construction work. At the time the new opening date was set to February 2015. Pontio is currently still under construction and a new opening date has not yet been set.
The president of Bangor’s students’ union, Rhys Taylor, told Y Byd ar Bedwar: “I don’t think there was any need to send staff over to New York for this trip.
“I think it’s important that these decisions are discussed more openly with the rest of the university, including students and members of staff.”
When Y Byd ar Bedwar asked how much money had been raised by the New York trip, a university spokesman told the programme: “It is difficult to attach any single donation to a single event or visit.
“We are continuing to keep in touch with individuals following the visit to New York to secure future donations.”
The expenses scandal has raised anger among the student community; Jeremy Harvey, a PhD student at Bangor University, told the Daily Touch that the news regarding the expenses is “disgusting.”
“The spokesperson also pointed out the £2.2m in funding that has been raised since O’Neal was appointed in 2013.” “It is difficult to attach any single donation to a single event or visit.”
In other words, O’Neal’s travel hasn’t produced much income, but the University is trying to cover this up by implying that the “£2.2m in funding” is due to her efforts. Of course, if O’Neal’s work had produced any donations, the University would have been quick to point that out. So we can only conclude that most/all of that ‘2.2m’ would have still been donated if O’Neal had never been born.
Now let’s think about these expenses a bit:
£1,320 on taxis: A roundtrip by taxi from Bangor to Manchester airport costs £200 and is about an hour faster each way than taking a train (£32 RT). So this might work out to 6 roundtrips to Manchester Airport, or considerable travel at other destinations.
£14,677 on hotels: This is interesting. In my experience, around the world, lodging in a decent-but-not-extravagant hotel or B&B costs about £50/night. By that estimate, £14,677 should have provided O’Neal with about 300 nights of lodging. Perhaps she really has been gone for six days out of every week. Or maybe O’Neal just overspent on lavish resorts. So why would the University have an interest in lodging O’Neal in such luxurious accommodations? Is she in the habit of using her hotel room to ‘entertain’ prospective donors.
£19,077 on flights: With a modicum of planning, EasyJet can get you anywhere in Europe for less than £100RT. And even without planning, a midweek coach-class roundtrip from Manchester to America can usually be found for £500 or less. So O’Neal’s £19,077 works out to about 38 roundtrips from Manchester to the US — that’s one transatlantic every five days for an entire year! That kind of jet lag can be difficult; no wonder O’Neal was too brain-dead to actually secure any donations.
£5,428 on food and drink: This works out to about 108 £50 dinners-for-two. That might be used for entertaining prospective donors, but I’m not sure. If she was entertaining the kind of donors who might donate enough money to at least cover her travel expenses, then O’Neal would likely have been spending more on the meals — maybe £100 each. So then it’s just 54 dinners. That’s hard to reconcile with the 38 transatlantic flights and 300 nights in hotels; it means that when O’Neal took these trips, she would have typically been flying across the Atlantic for just one dinner.
These expenses are ludicrous, and they are clearly not justifiable for a university in the kind of financial difficulties that VC Hughes’ mismanagement has created.
Ludicrous? Yes. But is it out of character for VC Hughes’ regime? Sadly, the answer is ‘no’.