An employment tribunal was told yesterday that Oxford University’s Saïd Business School misled the government over a £1m leadership development programme.
Whistleblower Elaine Heslop, an Oxford graduate who took a senior role at the school, claimed the scheme was simply “cut and pasted” from a course that had already been created.
She alleged the school misled the Cabinet Office over the origins of its “major project leadership academy” which was designed to build “the skills of senior project leaders across government”.
According to a report in The Times, Saïd charged about £934,000 for developing a bespoke programme, the tribunal was told. But, claimed Heslop, the Cabinet Office had been “materially misled”. She alleged that the leadership scheme was “almost identical” to an existing course at Saïd.
Heslop has said she was sacked for raising concerns over the deal and is claiming unfair dismissal against the school and the university.
The scheme is billed as the “only government major project leadership programme in the world” with the UK government overseeing 143 projects, worth £455.5bn.
Heslop said that, through papers lodged with Reading employment tribunal, that she raised her concerns two years ago with Andrew White, an associate dean at the business school.
She told the court that she asked a team to investigate the intellectual property used for the leadership academy and told White she was “concerned that the Cabinet Office had been materially misled”.
The Times said that in her submissions, Heslop told White that she “felt sick” when she saw that the materials for the programme were “nearly all identical” to those developed for an existing course, a Masters in Major Project Management.
“It looked like a copy and paste job, despite the proposal and tender documents having stated that the [school] would ‘amend and adapt’ [the existing module’s] design and content,” she said.
Heslop also alleged that the business school had broken public procurement rules by offering the Cabinet Office a 20% discount. This, she alleged, could be construed as a “bribe”, to retain the contract.
The business school, White and the university deny any wrongdoing and reject the claim for unfair dismissal. They told the tribunal that Heslop had shown “a lack of leadership” causing a “breakdown in the relationship”.
The tribunal case continues.