Gerard Westhoff gets disappointed by UCL’s response to his latest FOI request
Welcome to FFS: For Freedom’s Sake, a regular investigations instalment where we tell you everything you really didn’t think you needed to know about where UCL’s money goes, through the power of Freedom of Information requests.
When I submitted a freedom of information request to UCL several months back asking for the university’s total expenditure on wine each year (with a breakdown between red and white wine of course, I’m not a savage), for both staff and student focussed departmental events, I was hoping to get a good scandalous headline out of it. Something like: “GREEDY UNIVERSITY MANAGEMENT QUAFF £3 MILLION WORTH OF WINE EACH YEAR”. Or: “PROVOST PRO-VINO”. But alas, my request was rejected (and responded to two weeks late at that).
It seems that UCL orders so much wine from its catering contractor, Sodexo, that it “would take in excess of 550 hours” to extract the total wine expenditure from each individual order, according to the response a representative from UCL’s Legal Services sent me. Since this would account for a much greater staff cost than the Freedom of Information Act’s ‘appropriate limit’ of £450 per request, the university sadly weren’t obliged to answer my (very important) query.
The rejection hurt, but hey, I’m not going to let it kill the story. So in the absence of any concrete data on UCL’s wine spending costs, let’s have a bit of fun and speculate.
My FOI rejection email did contain a small amount of useful information – they told me that Sodexo receive “approximately 300 hospitality orders each month”. Let’s assume that half of these orders are for tea and biscuits (we know how much UCL loves biscuit selection packs), and estimate that another 50 of the orders are for purely food. This leaves 100 orders per month which probably contain wine. If you’ve been to any careers event in the cloisters, or any departmental party, then you’ll know that UCL events do not hold back on the free wine, but in the interest of fairness to UCL, let’s be conservative, and estimate that each order corresponds to five bottles of red, and five bottles of white. Assigning each bottle with a cost of £5 (UCL are far too fancy for any off that Sainsbury’s basic £3.50 stuff), this works out as each individual order costing £50, and the total cost per month on wine being £5000. Multiply this up to a year and you get £60,000 spent on wine. And that’s just for a deliberately low estimate – some networking shindigs have in excess of 50 bottles of wine, and some months (such as around Christmas and the end of the academic year) the wine order rate would be much higher – the true cost is likely in the six figure region.
So how much exactly does UCL spend on wine each year? Well I’m sorry to disappoint you as we may never know for certain, but it sure as hell is a lot.
Featured image: Quinn Dombrowski