NUIG charity criticised for spending on intercity taxis and luxury hotels

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A report by the Charities Regulator has criticised the NUIG fundraising foundation for the money it spends on five star hotels, intercity taxi trips, and expensive flights.

The Charities Regulator released a report on spending at the Galway University Foundation at NUIG this week after carrying out an investigation between April and August of 2018.

Overall the report said that the foundation was a “well run organisation”, but said that improvements could be made in

The Galway University Foundation was set up in 1998 with the goal of furthering the education and research carried out at NUIG.

The foundation supports these goals by developing strategic relationships working with the President’s Office, raising funds, and developing alumni relationships.

Since its establishment the foundation has raised €146 million in support of NUIG, with a further €65 million in matched funding coming from public funds.

In June 2017 concerns were raised with the Charities Regulator about the level and nature of travel and hospitality expenses incurred by the foundation.

Two inspectors were appointed by the Charities Regulator to investigate the affairs of the charity on April 11 of last year.

They made requests for documentation covering several years of spending at the charity that month, and sought further information in July.

The report found that €30,398 was spent on a total of 102 taxi trips from 2015 – 2017, the majority of which were between Galway and Dublin.

Of those trips, 77 were by then President of NUIG Dr Jim Browne, all of which were arranged via a local taxi driver.

There was little backup documentation on file to explain the reason for these trips and justify using a taxi service in the information given by the charity to the regulator according to the report.

Dr Browne, who was interviewed by the Regulator for this report, said that his job was a demanding one which often involves events running late, with meetings the following morning some distance away.

“In circumstances such as these it was more efficient and safer to avail of a driver than to risk driving when tired,” he told the inspectors adding that it was done when public transport options didn’t line up with his diary.

The report said “the use of charitable monies on a taxi service for long distance travel is generally inconsistent with value for money considerations”.

Also highlighted in the report was €48,584 spent on business class return fights in the same three year period, primarily to and from New York, and a further €24,145 one way business and economy class flights.

It was noted by the inspectors that while business class travel is not the policy of the foundation, the President is allowed to travel business class for long haul flights under University policy.

When asked by the inspectors if business class travel was appropriate given the charitable status of the foundation Dr Browne said, “we’re expected to be for meetings, being there is important, and being tired is not giving your best.”

When staying at hotels the average cost incurred by the charity was €385 per night at a mix of 4 and 5 star hotels.

These included the four star Fitzpatrick Hotel in New York and Royal Automobile Club in London, and the five star Shangri-La and Grand Hyatt in Singapore.

The charity was also found to have spent €10,884 on spousal travel over the course of ten trips, €7,965 of which was for the wife of Dr Browne.

Dr Browne said that the charity only provides spousal travel in exceptional circumstances, and that his wife only attended overseas when requested by the charity in order to build philanthropic relationships.

The inspector from the regulator said that they “did not see any evidence within the Charity’s policies that allow any form of spousal travel”, and that no evidence of exceptional circumstances was provided.