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The Vice-Chancellor’s Eight Thousand Pound, Two-Day Trip

Phoenix, Arizona at night

Roar examine a travel claim made by King’s College London (KCL) Vice-Chancellor Shitij Kapur in autumn 2022. How did a two-day trip to Phoenix, Arizona cost the University almost eight thousand pounds?

The Case

The Expenses Publication Schedule for 1 August 2022 – 31 January 2023 declares that VC Kapur was reimbursed £7,950.91 for an expense incurred on 16 October 2022. This is labelled “Travel […] Phoenix, USA”.

There are further small expenses claimed from London (16 October), Phoenix (17 and 18 October) and then London again (19 October), implying that this was a two-day trip.

Direct flights from London to Phoenix depart every day at 11:55 and 14:25, arriving at 15:55 and 18:30 respectively on the same day (considering time zones). This means that VC Kapur would have required accommodation on the night of 16 October 2022.

However, direct return flights depart at 19:25 and 20:30 local time, arriving at 12:10 and 13:20 the next day. Considering the expense claim from London on 19 October, the Vice-Chancellor likely left Phoenix on the evening of 18 October. This means that he would not require accommodation on that night.

The £7,950.91 travel expense is therefore covering a return flight from London to Arizona plus two nights (16 and 17 October) of accommodation and sustenance for one person.

Roar can find no mention of this trip on the website or X (formerly Twitter) account of King’s College London (@KingsCollegeLon). However, exactly a month after the VC left London for this eight thousand pound cross-continental trip, KCL did post a message about transport poverty.

VC Kapur also claimed £7,425.16 for an approximately week-long trip to Singapore in November 2022 and £5,450.75 for up to 10 days in Lagos during July 2023. These substantial costs were incurred by the University on top of Vice-Chancellor Kapur’s £414,000 remuneration in 2022-23.

The Explanation

KCL’s general policy is to “reimburse reasonable expenses”. The Financial Policy and Procedures document states that “Individuals incurring an expense should ensure that the expenditure is reasonable, provides good value for money, and is not excessive.”

KCL’s Staff & PGR Travel Policy states that “First class, business or any premium fare for any means of travel will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances and if it has been authorised in advance by an appropriate senior officer.”

Furthermore, KCL Business Travel Rules state that “Accommodation must be booked within the nightly rate caps as defined in the Expense Policy. If a booking is made above the nightly caps, the additional cost must be borne by the traveller personally.”

The Expense Policy states that those on foreign trips “should follow the HMRC for guidance for overnight stay rate caps… rate cap of the geographically nearest destination should be applied.” The closest city outlined by this schema is Los Angeles. The expense rate cap for the trip (two nights, up to 53 hours, two breakfasts and lunches, three dinners) would be $794.50 (£620.15).

So how did the Vice-Chancellor cost KCL almost £8,000?

When contacted for explanation, King’s College London described the trip as part of the PLuS Alliance with Arizona State University and the University of New South Wales (UWSW). The PLuS Alliance is designed to “help solve ‘global grand challenges’ in the modern world and foster connections between the institutions”.

However, the University did not explain how this amount of money was spent in such a short time. They also did not explain why the cost was so different to a £2,153.94 expense claim for a four-day trip to Chicago in March 2023. They did not suggest that the trip was organised at the last minute.

Roar has submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in order to attain copies of these receipts and establish clear answers.

Our Budgeting

To further illustrate the situation, Roar has attempted to construct a hypothetical trip to Phoenix which would have cost a similar amount.

The timing of the VC’s two-day trip will have had an impact on the price of the flights and hotel stay. The trip was from the third Sunday in October to the following Tuesday, so a trip from 20-22 October 2024 is used in our research to reflect this.

At the time of writing, return flights to Phoenix on these dates are listed at £794.09 on flight comparison site Skyscanner. Upgrading to business class increases the cost to £3,787.89.

According to TripAdvisor, the best-reviewed ‘Luxury Hotel’ in Phoenix is the Royal Palms Resort and Spa. The most expensive residence offered by the Royal Palms is the Presidential Villa (which, at 1,700 square feet, is the same size as the Vice-Chancellor’s Maughan apartment). Facilities for this luxury room include “an individual entrance, king bed, walk-in closet [and] 2 fireplaces”. The cost for a two-night stay in October, including taxes and fees, is $4264.16 (£3,369.01).

Altogether, a business class return flight and two nights in the most expensive room in the best-reviewed luxury hotel in Phoenix, plus a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon (£439.25), comes to a total of £7,596.15. This is £354.76 less than the Vice-Chancellor’s expense claim.

The Alternatives

What other two-day trips could £7,950.91 afford? Among other things, a luxury circumnavigation.

A direct business class flight from London to New York on 20 October 2024 would cost £1,659.18. That night, a ‘deluxe’ room at the Casa Cipriani, described by one critic as “luxury to the max”, would cost a further £894.

One could then fly, again in business class, directly from New York to Seoul the next day, arriving in the early hours of 22 October, for £2,541.05. Staying in the most expensive room – the ‘Grand Executive Suite’ – at the Grand Hyatt, one of the city’s finest hotels, would cost a further £519.

Departing for London at 23:55 on the same day, once again in business class, would cost another £1,356.18. Altogether, this luxury circumnavigation comes to £6,969.41. This is £981.50 less than the Vice-Chancellor’s two-day trip to Phoenix cost the University.

There are alternatives for a non-circumnavigating Vice-Chancellor. This budget could instead be used to fly the third-longest direct flight in the world (London to Perth) and back in business class (£7,373.89). It could also cover a night’s stay in the number one-ranked luxury hotel in the city (£588) – only one night would be needed, due to the huge time difference.

This would come in £10.98 over-budget (£7,961.89). Yet considering the total £28,399.70 in expenses claimed by the VC between 1 August 2022 and 31 July 2023, this kind of overspend is a minor difference.

Do you have any suggestions for two-night city-breaks that would come in at under £8,000? Please email [email protected] with suggestions for your chance to be featured on our social media pages.

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