20 May 2016

Polytech's consultants cost more than $1m

7:30 pm on 20 May 2016

Taranaki's polytech spent more than $1 million in legal and consultancy fees last year, according to its annual report.

Western Institute of Technology

Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

The Western Institute of Technology (WITT) paid more than twice as much for such fees in 2014 and about 10 times what it paid for similar services in 2011.

More than $930,000 of those payments accrued to WITT's main campus, which made a loss of $730,000.

Earnings at WITT's subsidiary the New Zealand Institute of Highway Technology (NZIHT) allowed it to record a small overall surplus of $185,000 - compared to a budgeted surplus of $1.09 million.

Executive director Nicola Conley said the legal fees related to continued fallout from its Māori performing arts (MPA) programme.

In 2014 the institute was forced to withdraw hundreds of MPA qualifications and ordered to repay $3.7 million in government funding.

Ms Conley said the institute did not necessarily hire people full-time and instead contracted consultants as and when it needed them.

"In relation to the consultancy fees the main reason for that is that we were a number of months without people in particular positions, so we obviously sought out consultants to ensure that we could continue to operate effectively.

"We also still have some hangovers from the MPA, so there were some legal and consultancy fees tied up in that as well."

Ms Conley could not say if any of the fees related to employment matters because they were covered by confidentiality.

Information released under the Official Information Act shows that since the appointment of CEO Barbara George in October 2013, WITT has spent about $185,000 on external consultants and lawyers directly linked to resolving employment issues.

Barbara George

WITT chief executive Barbara George Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Over the same period 22 staff members who either resigned or were made redundant had confidentiality clauses included in their exit packages.

Earlier this month the institute reinstated an academic staff member it had sacked after trawling through his work emails and finding he had discussed the performance of the chief executive with a parliamentary researcher, after he had called for a vote on a no-confidence motion against her.

The institute currently has one case outstanding with the Employment Relations Authority which is due to be heard in next month.

The Tertiary Education Commission which finances WITT has continued to rate its financial risk as moderate for the past two years.