‘Truly extraordinary’: v-c’s £322K award gets long justification

Statement in financial accounts explaining Bolton leader’s pay runs to almost two and a half pages

April 29, 2021
Vancouver, Сanada - May 18, 2013 Hood ornament detail from an antique Bentley automobile, seen at the annual All-British Field Meet classic and collector car event.
Source: iStock

Official statements justifying the sums paid to university leaders are a relatively new addition to higher education in England, having been made mandatory by the sector regulator in 2018 after years of controversy over rising pay packages.

Since then, financial accounts have carried justifications of varying length and detail, mostly listing performance against key targets such as financial benchmarks or student recruitment.

But few are likely to match the extent of the praise and explanation included in the University of Bolton’s 2019-20 financial accounts to justify the £322,000 pay package of its vice-chancellor, George Holmes, a leader who has had his fair share of media attention in the past for his remuneration and his love of luxury cars.

Running to almost two and a half pages, the text talks of the “truly extraordinary and rapid progress” made by Bolton over the past 15 years as it transformed from an institution that “truly might have failed” into a “successful university, which has brought so much to its students and to the town of Bolton”.

It goes on to praise at length the university’s “sector-leading” response to the Covid pandemic and how Professor Holmes and his team had “worked tirelessly” in the aftermath of a major fire at a privately run student accommodation block in Bolton last year that left 220 students without somewhere to live.

It says that “given past examples of vexatious harassment” faced by Professor Holmes, “it was to his credit and his resilience, that his performance and delivery continued to be as strong as ever in the face of significant external challenges”.

The statement adds that he “had met those challenges and had, so impressively, not simply maintained the orderly functioning of the university, but had proceeded with strategic measures and had skilfully turned adversity to the university’s advantage”.

“Arguably, this year had tested his leadership as never before. He had passed that test with skill, flexibility and real authority. [His] appraisal stated that the coming year may present even greater challenge; it was hard, however, to imagine anyone better to meet that, if it was to be so, than the present president and vice-chancellor,” the statement says.

The reasons for such a long statement are unclear, although there appears to be no mention in the justification of the £4.7 million operating deficit recorded by Bolton in 2019-20, something the accounts say was “driven largely by pension accounting and exceptional costs”.

Professor Holmes also does not seem to have taken the kind of pandemic-related voluntary pay cut seen at some other institutions. Instead, readers are reminded that he and other senior post holders at Bolton “had not had a pay increase beyond the national pay award – or any bonus since 2016”.

The accounts show that his salary grew by 1.8 per cent in 2019-20 – the same as the general pay settlement for all staff in the sector – while an overall 7 per cent rise in his remuneration was mostly due to a larger pension allowance that followed an increase in employer contributions for all members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

The justification seems at pains to point out that this was something “out of the hands” of the remuneration committee “and which should not be subsequently ‘misrepresented’ as an additional pay award and/or basic salary increase” that they had agreed and approved.


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Reader's comments (1)

And I don't think there is any justification for the professorial title.