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ICU Heading for Trustee Board

Apr 19 2007 22:37
Ashley Brown
Imperial College Union is set to bring in changes to its structure to help it comply with new charity laws.
Yet more reforms - most of the people in the photo probably just want a drink

The final phase of Imperial College Union's Governance Review has been completed, with the recommendations in a paper to the Executive Committee tomorrow.

The core issue for discussion was the model ICU will adopt when new charity laws come into effect: at present ICU is an exempt charity, which means it has no need to register with the Charities Commission, but this is set to change. If the proposals of the working group are implemented, ICU will assert greater independence from College by becoming a registered charity in its own right.

The main effect this has on ICU is who should become the 'trustee board', the body ultimately responsible for the charity. At present this falls to the Executive Committee, even though they may be over-ruled by Council. Recommendations on best practice from the Charities Commission warn against the committee remaining as a trustee board: the make up of paid and volunteer officers with short terms of office provides little in the way of apolitical thought and long term strategic oversight. Council is too large and ineffective to be the ultimate trustee board.

The proposed new structure

Many months ago ICU determined it should probably have a new trustee board, which would sit above Council, Executive and the Court to have the final say in all matters. While this board would be ultimately responsible, it is intended to be a hands-off body which intervenes only when necessary, similar to the Court but providing a broad range of general experience, rather than judicial and hack experience. By contrast, the new trustee board at Kings has far more control over the union.

The style of trustee board proposed in the review would provide a body capable of strategic planning, with a range of experience from external members feeding into this. It would also have an opportunity to scrutinise finances with non-students again providing valuable insight. Both of these functions are currently inadequately performed by the executive and Council, if they ever happen at all.

Members of the Board

It is proposed that the trustee board be made of the following people:

  • President
  • Council Chair
  • Court Chair
  • 4x student trustees
  • 4x external trustees
  • 1 College governor

Sack-a-Sabb Circus

The attempted no-confidence of the Deputy President (Graduate Students) provoked squeals of horror from College human resources, other students' unions and at least one trade union due to the position of sabbaticals as both elected officers and employees. Under the proposals outlined by the governance review Council would be deprived of its ability to fire underperforming or incompetent sabbaticals. Instead a no-confidence would remove the officer from their position, removing their right to represent the union or take part in its governance structures. The officer would remain an employee, with absolutely nothing do, until the trustee board met to consider whether to terminate their employment.


Other students' unions also react with horror when they find out that ICU allows sabbaticals - or anyone involved in the ICU political process - to act as returning officer. Following this year's elections farce, which prompted other unions to ask "what on earth are you lot doing over there?", Court looks set to take over elections for central positions.

Staff-Student Protocol

The much-maligned and outdated Staff-Student Protocol is also to be replaced, as the current one is open to misinterpretation and no longer suitable.

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Discussion about “ICU Heading for Trustee Board”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Apr 20 2007 14:23

Two points of clarification here after today's exec meeting:

  • there would be 4 external trustees, which includes the College governor
  • the Court chair is now intended to be a permanent observer (so would have no vote)
  • Deputy Presidents, the Union General Manager and the Honorary Senior Treasurer would also be permanent observers
Apr 20 2007 14:24

And a correction:

  • there were three points of clarification above, not two
Apr 20 2007 17:22

This is all very interesting. The Union Council meeting the week after next will be very interesting.

This Charities Act 2006 really has caused problems with students, with public schools having to justify their charity status and all this hoo har about Student unions.

Even though this Board has a slight wiff of an extra layer of bureaucracy, the "helicopter pilot view" idea is quite a relief.

Apr 23 2007 02:52

I personally am quite excited about the prospect of a trustee board. Although there are genuine concerns about an "extra layer of beurocracy" there is simply no alternative. We ned a trustee board, and none of the current committee's are suitable.

Another concern is that the trustee board will be the sovereign body of the union by definition, and this could lead to a body with non-students on it taking controll. However a committe which meets 4-6 times a year is hardly going to be able to stick its nose in much.

The most exciting prospect is that of long term strategy, which is virtually impossible currently, and having internal expert advice to hand.

5. Tom T   
May 01 2007 22:57

John Collins started off well but on reading his latest 'note' to the Union Exec I see that in fact very little has changed at the higher echelons of student hackdom.

He persists with 'away days', jamborees that isolated students from the rest of the Union and came up with great plans like the Masterplan that didn't exist (according to Mustafa Arif in days of yore) and such.

I'm also amused that so much Edward Lord legacy persists. Executive is 'invited to endorse' decisions, that whilst stating the bleeding obvious, are nevertheless not decisions made by students on behalf of students.

The best thing about all this is that the solicitors, having read Mr Arif's changes to the Constitution, are in no way enlightened as to who serves as the official Trustees of the Union. In my day it was the Executive Committee, but ever since one previous Union Manager threatened to sue a Member of the Union for alleging misconduct, both the Executive has been watered down, and the rights of students to determine their own future as well. A 'sovereign, apolitical, light-touch' Board of Trustees might well sound appealing, but someone has to take the can in the Union. More layers of waffle between the decision makers and the users will only result in more quagmirical stalemate, if such a state is possible.

I could go on, but I wouldn't want anyone to fall asleep!

6. Hmm.   
May 02 2007 09:37

These governance 'away days' were all-day meetings (at weekends and during holidays) in such exotic locations as Sherfield and an ex-student's work office, not pleasure outings to theme parks in the name of team-building.

Yes, Mustafa denied the existence of the Masterplan, but John always disagreed with these claims, and mentioned the Union building redevelopment in his manifesto (and several emails and Felix columns since). The problem with the Masterplan in Arif's year was not that wanting to improve the building was an inherently evil idea, but rather the covert way in which it was planned; it has been more open since. Indeed, when a group of clubs wanted to go to Council sugegsting a change, John actually helped them, rather than going on the defensive and telling them the union would be doomed and he'd sue them all.

Exec are 'invited to endore' the paper because that is all they can do, anything more requires Council support, and John (unlike his predecessor-but-one) clearly recognises that. This consultation paper has gone to Exec and Council to seek their opinions before they have even been asked to approve specific constitutional changes, as opposed to just being presented fully-drafted to the last two councils of the year with a "pass this or else we're all screwed".

Yes, there are dangers in the proposed trustee board setup. But ICU's hand is being forced by the new Charities Act. As correctly stated above, the Constitution as Arif left it still leaves ambiguity as to who are the real trustees, a situation that is now legally untenable, and this trustee board model has never been spun as anything but the least bad option.

May 03 2007 13:11

For further information about this proposal, please visit this website:,152,ICUNS.html

And please do send me any comments you might have about what is being proposed.

May 08 2007 11:53

The requirement in the Charities Act is that the charity has clearly defined trustees. I no way does it determine what the composition of a trustee body should be.

The Trustee Act 1912 and its various amendments including the Trustee Act 2000, stipulate clearly that trustees cannot act alone on behalf of a trustee body and indeed, trustee decisions must be taken collectively. However, as a trustee myself, I am always wary of how and where we take advice and how we appoint lay members to trustee bodies. Small trustee bodies of the size of around 10 are exteremely liable to become dominated by two or three appointed members or advisers/chief executives unless they (these advisers) are scrutinised regularly and in depth and also the trustees themselves have external contacts to legal professionals, accountants and other 'experts' who are not linked to the regular advisers.

May 08 2007 13:15

Thanks for this Rob - do you have a suggested TB size in mind that would avoid allowing the proposed ICU TB to get over-dominated by a couple of individuals?

May 11 2007 02:25

Yes- first of all dont follow ULU's chaotic model. Second, the size is 8 to 12 - as suggested by the Charity Commission. I think it best if asked I deliver an opinion as a Court member. And to you as chief exec, for the exec to discuss.

Imperial is its members. And I'm pround you are engaging. This is wonderful! Certanly unique compared with other new governace unions which havent

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