Despite having to sign an agreement with the UK Information Commissioners to obey the Freedom of Information legislation, the University of East Anglia is doing whatever it can to resist and avoid compliance. Previously it refused to provide information on the terms of its contract with Muir Russell, saying that it was a “public appointment”. In response, Andrew Montford asked for invoices and general ledger expenditures as follows:
1. A detailed lists of amounts expended – i.e. at invoice level – for the two inquiries. For each amount processed through the ledgers, I would like the following fields
– invoicer/payee name
– contents of narrative field
– authorised by
2. Please provide copies of invoices (or equivalent documentation) used to process the above payments.
The university refused to provide copies of the invoices on the basis that they had already spent 18 hours to summarize the general ledger expenditures:
We have calculated that it has taken almost 18 hours of work to provide the response to question 1 alone. This time was required to download information from the ledger, format into excel and to define the appropriate fields. The information had to be cross-checked to identify and extract all expenditure relevant to the request. The name of the person authorising payment had to be separately located and retrieved manually. A manual search of credit card records was conducted to identify relevant expenditures, and finally, a manual search was required to provide confirmation of taxi journeys against the monthly account statements – a further hour.
The additional work required to actually provide copies of the invoices would place the time required well over the appropriate limit.
In the past, I have, from time to time, transferred data from accounting software to Excel for data analysis. Even simple accounting packages provide for direct extraction from a general ledger into Excel on many choices of field. When a project like the Muir Russell is set up, an item in the Chart of Accounts is created and each invoice is tagged when it is accounted for. Then you just push a button and you get your extracted data. It would take about one minute.
Adopting an annoying tactic all too typical, instead of providing the actual digital in a searchable form or with subtotals, the University provided a pdf. In this case, it would take more time to appeal this tactic than to transcribe the data. I’ve started the process by transcribing the Professional Fees Excel here. (Update- Andrew Montford did this including the travel and I’ve included his transcription of travel and hospitality in an updated version. Montford is also familiar with GLs and, like me, is incredulous that even the UEA could pretend to have spent 18 hours on this meager offer.)
Professional fees totalled GBP297,443, with the largest invoices going to:
Luther Pendragon – GBP 57,279
Geoffrey Boulton – GBP 52,503
Muir Russell GBP 40,881
Jim Norton GBP 43,473
RSE Scotland GBP 37,537
Olswang LLP GBP 21,991
David Walker GBP 15,000
Norfolk Police GBP 10,469
Given a choice of getting copies of the invoices or having the University do a manual search of the authorizing officer, I’m sure that Montford would have chosen the invoices. Or given a choice between getting copies of invoices and cross-checking taxi rides. Even though the University is supposed to assist in making a request as feasible as possible, they did not give Montford the choice. Instead it seems to me that they intentionally tried to run the clock on trivia in order to avoid the delivery of copies of invoices.
Even from this information, the UEA’s claim that Muir Russell was a “public appointment” looks increasingly fantastic. If a public appointment had really taken place, then there would be invoices from the Muir Russell Review Group to the University of East Anglia, instead of, as seems to be the case here, invoices directly from Geoffrey Boulton, Luther Pendragon etc to the UEA.
Other questions arise. The UEA paid the Norfolk Police Authority over 10,000 GBP – what was that for?
Geoffrey Boulton was the largest invoicer, even larger than Muir Russell. No real surprise to see this documentation of Boulton’s influence. As CA readers know, Boulton worked at the University of East Anglia for 18 years and has been actively campaigning on climate. Boulton, as Montford recently observed, is closely involved with the UK government – see Montford on the Center for Science and Technology. The size of Norton’s invoices is a surprise.
The largest vendor was Luther Pendragon. Given that the entire project was a public relations exercise, I guess that it is no surprise that the largest expenditures were on public relations. But the amount of expenditure on public relations is really quite startling.
By contrast, the Oxburgh inquiry cost very little. The panelists did not charge for their time. The largest expenditures were business class travel to the UK for Graumlich and Emanuel. Nor were they charged much for local travel in the UK.
Despite the efforts by the UEA to avoid showing the invoices from Muir Russell and others, I think that they will come out. And will show that the UEA’s attempt to claim Muir Russell as a “public appointment” was just another subterfuge to avoid compliance with an earlier FOI request.