Financial figures used by York-based Askham Bryan College to justify the impending sale of its campus at Newton Rigg, Penrith, have been questioned by a leading accountant who served as a governor at Newton Rigg for seven years and also by the retired principal of Askham Bryan.
Ian Brown, a founding partner of county accountancy firm Dodd & Co, who sat on the Newton Rigg board of governors between 2011 and 2018, and former Askham Bryan principal Liz Philip say they do not recognise how the figure of an “estimated” £7 million said by Askham Bryan chief executive officer and principal Tim Whitaker to have been spent subsidising the Eden campus was arrived at, while other costs he has quoted took no account of money received by Askham Bryan from several sources.
Both also believe some of the sums mentioned by Dr Whitaker in last week’s Herald were a combination of running costs and capital spending on assets, which is not a generally recognised method of accounting.
Regarding the “seven-figure sum of money” said by Dr Whitaker to have been spent by Askham Bryan between 2011 and 2013 in relation to the acquisition of Newton Rigg, Mr Brown believes this is “technically correct”, since it paid about £640,000 for assets like livestock and vehicles, plus acquisition costs of around £500,000 for things such as consultancy fees and pension liabilities.
However, this expenditure figure does not take into account the fact Askham Bryan subsequently sold off a number of assets, including farmland, for around £200,000, some woodland for £120,000 and a field near Mungrisdale for £35,000.
Mr Brown said: “Askham Bryan got a cracking deal – they basically paid nothing for assets worth £8.3 million, later re-valued at £12 million.
“The University of Cumbria also entered a facilities agreement under which it paid £1.25 million to Askham Bryan for the use of buildings at Newton Rigg in 2011, £1.25 million in 2012 and £0.9 million in the third year.
“So, not only did they get the assets for nil, but received £3.4 million in return.” He added: “The substantial operating deficit figure is incorrect in my opinion. I don’t know how you can estimate that at £7 million — it can’t be justified. Askham Bryan could estimate just about anything.”
He also pointed out that Dr Whitaker had spoken optimistically of progress at Newton Rigg as recently as August, 2019, when he said student numbers at the Cumbrian site for the following academic year had risen to 1,183, and questioned why the Askham Bryan principal had undergone such a change of heart since then.
On the supposed “subsidy” of £7 million, Mrs Philip said she did not recognise this figure and believed it was a muddling up of expenditure and investments, and did not reflect what had happened during her time in charge of Newton Rigg, from 2011 to 2016.
She said the £4.4 million figure quoted by Dr Whitaker in terms of Askham Bryan’s investment in Newton Rigg did not take into account the grant support the Yorkshire college received for these capital projects — including around £1 million originally provided by Defra for the Sewborwens dairy unit and the nearby college campus, £300,000 from Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership and money from countryside organisation the CLA and the Frank Parkinson Trust.
She added: “The stock we purchased from the University of Cumbria is still on the balance sheet.
“Would Askham Bryan use the same method of accounting for its campus at York? It spent £6 million on investments there.”