By Rob Wells and Shane Croucher
The current Students’ Union team have been in office for about five months now. They seem to be making some effort, but it has been offset by multiple failures.
The Linc think that it’s important to see what kind of progress, if any, is being made. After all, the SU was given nearly £350,000 by the university this year, and the six full-time officers get paid about £19,000 a year. This money comes from students’ fees.
The SU also claim to be representing the students at the University of Lincoln, and their decisions are made in students’ names, though just 13% of eligible students voted in the elections in March.
Meanwhile, the SU don’t appreciate it when people point out their failures. An attempt was made recently to severely restrict The Linc’s ability to get answers from the Students’ Union. Thanks to our readers, it was blocked.
Abdul Alim Bachani may have been the face of this attempt, claiming The Linc take up too much of the SU’s time, but there seems to have been someone else behind it too. In an interview with Josh Jackson of Siren FM, Chris Charnley, the SU’s president, agreed with Bachani’s position and advised that The Linc should “probably just back off a little bit”.
Charnley said that by looking at The Linc’s reports, it would be “quite apparent what officers spend their time on”. There were ten articles about the SU from the start of August until the time the move to constrain The Linc was unveiled.
Without inside knowledge from the The Linc or the SU, it would be very difficult to gauge the amount of contact.
Conveniently, the Thursday before November 17th’s All Student Meeting, when the move was put to a vote, the SU published their own “newspaper”, The Agenda.
Unable to secure the uncritical coverage they’d like in the campus’s most-read outlet, thousands of copies were printed, at a cost estimated to be close to £1,000. Again, over 80% of the SU’s funding is provided by the university.
In The Agenda, the SU make several highly dubious claims and try to take credit for successes they had little influence over.
Propaganda should have no place at university, where people come to seek knowledge, not ignorance. In this issue of The Linc we have taken some of the most important issues, and claims of, the Students’ Union, and checked to see if they stand up.
At the Student Council before the All Student Meeting on November 17th, Chris Charnley, the SU’s president, and Dan Derricott, a part-time officer, unveiled The Agenda.
The SU felt the need to print a newspaper to “tell students what [they’ve] been up to” since the start of the semester.
But whether these are actually the SU’s achievements, or those of others, is highly suspect. It seems that they often overstate the influence they have on decisions taken around the university.
One recent example of the SU attempting to take credit for someone else’s idea is the “Come dine with Vito” scheme involving Vito Cataffo, who owns Gino’s and Zucchinis in Lincoln. Emma Devine, the SU’s vice-president for communications, says this “is a new SU initiative”.
By that logic it is also an initiative from The Linc as we gave Vito the SU’s contact details after our interview in September.
The Agenda contains claims of similar veracity, such as listing the university shop’s move as a “bullet point success”. The shop is moving into the former Opportunities@Lincoln office on the ground floor of the main building. That service has now moved into its own building.
With the shop gone, this also gives the university more options when they redevelop the ground floor of the library. It’s doubtful the SU has enough influence to insist on a new building so that the shop could be moved.
The 24-hour opening of the library is also listed, which the SU refer to as “exclusive”, in italicised, red, capital letters. It seems as if they are trying to claim that they are solely responsible for achieving this.
Ian Snowley, director of the library, told The Linc that the decision to do this comes partly from last year’s trial. He says the SU will be involved with picking the second set of dates, so while they had a hand in this, claiming it as their own achievement is a distortion.
The rest of their “achievements” consist of top-down measures, such as requiring more student reps, and PR-speak, such as putting the Student Council “right at the heart of the Student Experience”.
“The Student Opinion” page is also undermined by including staff members, and some students report being asked specifically for positive comments.
Accountability at the Students’ Union is in an interesting situation. Chris Charnley, the Union’s president, recently claimed: “The Union is in no form accountable to members of the press. As students yes, but as members of the press you hold no right to hold the Union to account.”
Whilst they declare themselves to be transparent and open, they have full-time, unelected staff. These staff are unaccountable to students, and their salaries do not appear on the Students’ Union accounts.
The amount of unelected employees will soon increase, with the hiring of a press officer for the next academic year.
We’ve also been analysing the SU’s accounts for the team’s first three months in office.
There are some large forecasting errors, with one misjudgement resulting in just over 2% of the predicted income actually being raised. The Union expected Publicity and Media to raise £2,970. The reality is that only £65 was raised, whilst the total spend reached £5,326 – just over a thousand pounds more than expected.
Another error in predicted income is with Bullet Magazine, where £550 was raised, less than half of the expected £1,200.
On a more positive note, all but one of the executive officers underspent on their non-pay related budgets. Only the president surpassed the estimate, by doubling it.
Also, the total predicted spending for the period was £112,539. However, actual spending only came to £99,192, which could be put down to the Graduation Ball. The event made a £14,625 net profit, a sum which was helped by a £2,265 underspend.
However, the SU’s actual total income was £142,868, which falls slightly short of their £145,798 prediction.
In their budget for 2009/10, £1,000 has been set aside for the Media Centre, which already had a £10,000 investment in 2008. Student Council has been allocated £775 for the year, but what costs are incurred from holding a fortnightly meeting on university property?
Publicity and Media has been earmarked £4,530, but the Students’ Union seem to use Facebook as their main point of contact. This is free, as are press releases. So are they really spending over £4,000 on posters?
While the SU claim they’re being open there is still much that is unknown about what they do, and how they do it.
And when they try to tell students what “successes” they’ve had so far many of them are of dubious veracity. When will they tell students what they are really up to?Tweet