Union “teetering on the brink”

SENIOR Union sources have issued a dire warning over the future of the Students’ Union, warning that time is running out for the Union to recover a £150,000 hole in its budget by June 2013.

In the worst case, the Union could face bankruptcy. The Union is funded by a combination of block grant from the University, and the profits of a trading company which it owns, which operates the Union shop and runs the bars and events.

The University made a block grant of £510,000 in 2002/3, but by 2011/12 this had only increased to £564,000. Adjusted for inflation based on the Retail Price Index, this was a cut of £98,000, with the 2002 block grant worth £662,000 in 2012 prices.

The performance of the Union’s trading arm has been worsening over recent years, reflecting a national decrease in the numbers of people visiting pubs and clubs.The membership services side, which supports sports and societies and provides advice and support to students, has costs of around £900,000 per year. Without an increase in the block grant provided to the University, the Union say they will have no option but to cut student services.

The policy of the Welsh government is that universities should support unions in providing services to students, and it is on this basis that the University is allowed to charge students £9,000 tuition fees.
Ben Meakin, Union President, said:

“After a decade of nearly no support from the university and a gradual cut to the block grant, coupled with a failing commercial arm and a tired building; The Union is in a sorry state. But this is exactly why I stood in the elections under than banner “Meakin Changes” and we’ve been working hard to implement changes over summer.

“We’ve made the building more appealing and more importantly we’ve employed a new Events Manager and a new Commercial Services Director. Despite this, we are working hard to lobby the university in order to obtain an increase in our block grant, without this we might be forced to close core services such as sports or societies.”

A spokesperson for the University said:

“The funding provided to the Guild of Students / Students’ Union by the University reflects the settlement for other departments within the University.Therefore the Students Union has received the same treatment for all budget holders, with a clear relationship to the overall income of the University. The University also provides premises and payroll services to the Union free of charge.

“The University also provided an interest free loan facility of £760,000 to finance the extension of the Union’s building, £600,000 in 2000/1 and an additional £160,000 in 2001/2. In 2011/12 and 2012/13 loan repayments on the loan totalling £104,000 were written off by the University. This in effect uplifted the Union budget by this amount, and this increase is above any uplifts the University undertook for any other operational budgets during these years. In 2011/12 the University also funded a learning space within the Guild at a cost of circa £15,000.”