Oxford Union under fire for 'excessive' expenses claims by its top officials

Have the 'Cabinet ministers of the future' been taking liberties with perks? Izzy Boggild-Jones, Tom Rowley and Tom Peck investigate

Long known as the parliamentarians' finishing-school, the Oxford Union readies its members for the highest offices in the land. William Gladstone, Michael Foot, Boris Johnson all found their oratorical tongue at the dispatch boxes of the union.

But now it seems that Westminster's recent penchant for "generous" expenses might just have its roots here too. The union's officers now find themselves in the uncomfortable glare of public scrutiny after their expenses were published in the university's student newspaper, The Oxford Student.

It transpires that they spent almost £50,000 on drinks, dinners and "miscellaneous expenses" last year. One union president claimed for new curtains and carpet for the presidential office, former home of two of the UK's new cabinet members, William Hague and Michael Gove, and the spotlessly moated former minister, Douglas Hogg.

The society's officers spent £17,000 on dinners for themselves, guests and debate speakers last year and almost £15,000 on general debate expenses. This includes a free "president's drinks" for union officers and other guests after the weekly Thursday debates.

Officers are also "required" to attend a weekly £30-a-head three-course dinner in a grand room named after former union librarian and prime minister Harold Macmillan.

Much like their alumni in parliament, union officials have been reticent in granting access to each expenses receipt. One of the society's rules states that "all income and expenditure records will be available for inspection", but the union's bursar, Lindsey Warne, claimed that receipts are not expenditure records. But, she said, all the claims were "viable and honourable".

A spokesman for the union said that ordinary members were able to attend post-debate dinners and drinks if applications were received in good time, but that numbers were limited. The union is unhappy with claims in the student paper that the money spent was for the exclusive use of the officers themselves.

Students pay up to £198 to join the society, which is popular not just for its impressive record of guest speakers (who have included Albert Einstein, Ronald Reagan and Shakira, no less), but also as it comes with free admission to one of the town's less salubrious night-spots. According to the union's own figures, an estimated two-thirds of undergraduates are members, with 12,000 in total across Oxford.

Angry students are now mounting a campaign for the receipts to be published; all highly distracting with examination term in full swing.

Approval of expenditure is approved by the society's bursar, who said: "It is done individually on whether it is a legitimate expense or not. You take each one as it comes."

The Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke, who campaigned for five years to expose MPs' expenses claims, has also entered the row, calling for the receipts to be published. "We couldn't have seen the extent of the abuse without the actual documents," she said. "You want the source material, not someone's interpretation of it.

"If we're going to see a new generation of politicians [coming from the Union], we would hope they treat the people they represent as equals and recognise an obligation of openness."

A Union spokesperson said members are welcome to view the receipts, which are stored in several boxes, but that they will not be ready until the summer holidays.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Assistant / Apprenticeship Industry

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Private Training Provider off...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own