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Friction over College Financial Control

Aug 10 2008 17:21
College's control of the Union Finance Department is continuing to pose problems, including an attempt to grab access to Union accounts.
This is not a stock photo but Union accounts left in an unlocked cupboard.

In 2007 the ICU Executive Committee controversially agreed to hand over control of Union Finances to College. This was despite concerns that ICU would be throwing away the independence called for through the Governance Review. A new Finance Officer was recruited earlier this year to be employed by and responsible to the College Finance Department. Changes implemented under College financial management have already caused widespread disgruntlement within Club and Society Officers after contact time with finance staff was cut and the amount of red tape increased.

Not the safest place to leave financial records...

Worries that College would not be able to understand the demands and requirements of managing the finances of a volunteer led organisation are being realised this week after a number of incidents have been reported. Barely a day into her new role, ICU President, Jenny Morgan, was confronted with a request to hand over access to all the Union?s bank accounts to the College Finance Division. Standing her ground, Miss Morgan refused to rescind financial control, despite senior Union managers allegedly supporting the opinion that students were incapable of looking after the accounts themselves. Of course with statements lying around in and outside cupboards in the basement of Beit Quad it wouldn't take College much effort to find any information that they wanted.

This isn?t the first time that Sabbatical Officer authority has been challenged under the new management. A senior member of finance staff had originally considered the position of DPFS to be their 'helper' as opposed to their superior until they were informed otherwise. Furthermore, with three of the four Sabbatical Officers away on annual leave, the Finance Department have taken it upon themselves to set new ?policy?, in direct breach of the Staff/Student Protocol.

...such as staff time sheets!

The Finance Department openly stated this week that they were changing the 'policy' for requesting an Imprest (an advancement of funds made to a member of the Union for goods or services which need to be paid cash-in-hand). Under current Union Finance Regulations the authorisation needed to request an Imprest is the signature of the relevant Deputy President but this regulation was overruled by the Finance Department insisting that their signature was insufficient and more evidence would be required. This sort of challenge on a Sabbatical Officer's authority, and clear misunderstanding of the protocol whereby staff members cannot comment on or influence ICU Policy, is a symptom of the incompatibility of Union activity with College Finance Procedures. It would seem that, in their eagerness to create the Imperial College Department of Students, College have underestimated the complexities of running a volunteer organisation of these proportions and are inadequately prepared to deal with a situation where students make the decisions.

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Discussion about “Friction over College Financial Control”

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.
1. Dry   
Aug 10 2008 19:58

Seriously, the sheer quantity of boringness.... Let's not turn this more into hack central than it needs be.

Aug 10 2008 20:14

Yes, because College wanting full control of the union accounts, and leaving things like staff time sheets in unsecured locations, is of no concern to anyone but hacks...

Maybe we should just give up and hand the whole lot over if you can't see why this is important.

Aug 10 2008 21:15

I know it's potentially boring, but without control of our own money how could the Union be described as independent?

I'd like to know exactly what is meant by 'hand over access ... to Finance...' If this is College asking for details of transactions they (in the form of College Council) have rights to see everything under the Education Act 1994 to ensure that we're running our finances properly - although this could be argued that this is not a 'reasonable step' in the terms of the Act. If they're attempting to obtain control of what transactions are enacted thorugh the accounts, then they are barred by their own ordinances from doing so (at least for payments). [and because it's the ordinances that prevent this, they can't change their own Financial Regulations to allow them so to do]

Ho hum.

4. Hmmm   
Aug 11 2008 13:34

Well it's upset the new DPFS seeing as he's now barricaded himself in the Guild's office and refusing to allow other officers to enter while he 'discusses' the article...

Aug 11 2008 16:16

Pandora. I love it! What a name.



Aug 11 2008 18:27

Oh look, another poorly written article.

At the moment, most of College's cash is pooled to invest in the money market, the wise bearded one has many tales about it! I wonder if thats got anything to do with it. In which case, its not "full control" of the Union accounts, is moving cash around! Rather different.

However, its still important for the Union to remain seperate from College, and well done to Jen for standing her ground.

The Finance Manager treating the DPFS as her helper, haha Chris never mentioned this!! Was his on her first day?! Where did this quote come from?! Anyway there are only a few hundred Union Finance Managers in the country (much fewer with finance sabbs) that have to deal with a wierd relationship between staff and sabbs. It took 6 months for the interim Finance Manager to understand how ICU operates before the new Finance Manager was come we didn't get an article back then?

Why would the Finance Manager become involved in the Imprest when the "relevant Deputy President" was away? There aren't any tours going away, which is really the only time imprests should be used. A Honorary Senior Treasurer would sign off the cheque for an imprest anyway, who is a member of College. Can we now have anyone bollocks article about how College is taking over the Union one HST at a time?

Aug 11 2008 18:35

I think if the Union is going to be handing out cash advances then it should require more evidence than the signature of 1 sabb.

It would be interesting to hear more specific detail about the nature of the request for funds. Imprests are used only when there is a very good reason to and it would make this article a bit more balanced if the circumstances surrounding this were shared with readers. There could have been a very good reason why any responsible person would have questioned a ridiculous request for an imprest that wasnt clearly justified.

Aug 11 2008 18:48

"Oh look, another poorly written article."

Spelling and grammar are improving slowly and all the facts are correct. If you don't like the news don't read it. Or write something you would want to read.

"It took 6 months for the interim Finance Manager to understand how ICU operates before the new Finance Manager was come we didn't get an article back then?"

Because noone complained about the interim finance manager and there were numerous articles at the time about worries that College were taking over.

"There aren't any tours going away, which is really the only time imprests should be used."

If you read the finance manual (sorry 2006-2007 is still the only one available on the ICU website) it says that Imprests should be used for paying for goods and services when the supplier requires cash in hand. It uses DJs and Sports Officials (Referees, Umpires etc) as an example of when you should use an Imprest.

"Why would the Finance Manager become involved in the Imprest when the "relevant Deputy President" was away?"

That's the whole point! Plus the 'relevant Deputy President' was not away. In the absence of the DPFS and DPCS the DPEW had financial authority and was not consulted.

Aug 11 2008 19:15

Check your facts :P The 07-08 finance manual along with all the other forms can be found at

Well from my training you can spend up to ?200 of your own money and you shouldn't be paying for anything over ?200 (sports officials or goods and services) without a purchase order. Read the Finance Manual before you start quoting it.

From what I've seen, imprests are rarely used as they are risky for the Union. They are often used on tours to pay for campsites, meals and road tolls, because you can't expect a student to spend ?3000 out of their own pocket. Seeing as the Finance Office should be managing financial risk, I'm not suprised they're unhappy with the process. It sounds mad to have just one person signing off imprests. I wonder whether the DPEW knows what an imprest is (no offence Hannah, you're not hacky enough)...let alone what is required to sign one off.

Aug 11 2008 19:24

They can be as unhappy as they like, but they shouldn't just be changing what is required. If the signature of a DP is all that is required, it is up to that DP to make sure it is a valid request. If they don't like it, they can tell the DPFS they don't like it and he can ask Exec to change it.

The way it reads to me is that the college is being criticised for not appropriately training the new finance manager, who seems to not quite understand the organisation he (or she?) is working in. The interim finance manager upset the club chairs due to not understanding how the place worked, the new finance manager also seems to have entered the job without an idea of how it works.

Anyone coming from a conventional finance job into the union would have no idea how it worked, but should be trained *before* taking up the post, rather than inadvertently causing problems while fumbling along trying to figure it out.

And it looks like there was an article discussing problems caused by the interim finance manager:

Quite who's fault it is for not training these new members of staff correctly, I don't know. Is it down to the college? Or should someone in the union hierarchy be doing it? It certainly shouldn't be Live! doing it...

Aug 11 2008 20:26

Hello madam finance manager! We haven't got any training for you, but here's a website for you to read...

Aug 11 2008 23:04

Ashley, why have you deserted us!

Aug 12 2008 11:17

Who's that in the photo?

Aug 12 2008 18:58

I haven't deserted anyone ;)

Good to see all new Live! editors get bitched at when they start and it wasn't just me.

Aug 13 2008 00:14

Hmm I'll refrain from comment about the new Finance Manager, but I never knew she thought I was her helper! Comedy :D I take it these personal comments about individual staff are now allowed due to the earlier article about SSP?

Observer, pull the stick out of your bum.

Anyway, you've failed mentioned that the Union Executive has received Management Accounts for every meeting? Thats unprecedented and we can't expect improvements across the board so soon. Plus quite a few more improvements that you'll never hear about. Its important for ICU remain member focused, and as Clubs & Socs makes up a huge amount of what ICU does, and so attention has been paid to it over the last few months.

The details of this "incident" seem bloody sketchy anyway, I'd like to hear more detail. I was never too happy about imprests, particularly as it can be easy to forget about them (luckily Finance don't)! I think I signed off only about of them 10 in the my whole year as DPFS anyway.

I do think how else can we improve the Union Financial Regulations and the way we run our finance function without input from professionals? I'm not a trained accountant, nor are few others in the Union.

Theres a nice level of interpretation with the Finance Regs and operational policy anyway. The Finance Regs are broken fairly often, how many events that has spends over ?2k has the permission of the General Manager I wonder?

Ok, must go to bed.


Aug 13 2008 00:22

P.S. I'm not playing the saint here, I've broken the Finance Regs a few times, for which I'm sorry. I'm not upset that I broke the Finance Regs, who's perfect? These include items such authorising a cheque to be sent out which was 56p over my limit-of-authority. This was reported to both Exec and the Trustee Board..along with a few others too.

This year I did not deliver a budget to the Executive Committee, which I'm fully aware breaks Finance Regs (should be presented in Easter, which I'm not sure has been done in recent years as well). This clause should probably be revised given that ICU does not find out about its annual subvention until May/June/whenever.

A budget is only as good as its content, so its important not to rush it. In the last financial year the budgets had to be revised as they weren't matching reality when we looked at the Management Accounts!

Right, really time for bed!

Aug 13 2008 15:15

Wow, although I don't feel this should have been published yet. I think the reaction has been a little harsh.



18. Editor   
Aug 15 2008 12:23

Amended to remove reference to individual members of staff following a new interpretation of the Staff Student Protocol.

Aug 15 2008 12:58

Holy s**t, what a weak and supplicating editor. BRING BACK ASHLEY!

Aug 15 2008 16:54

Nobodies ever happy. :)

You can't blame me for Ashley leaving. That's Ashley's fault.

Aug 15 2008 21:41

Nobody's ever happy

Ashley would never make a mistake like that!

Aug 18 2008 17:08

With regards to post 19. In which article has Ashley criticised a named member of staff?

Dec 09 2008 09:47

The Union seems to be beefing up it's financial staffing.

Dec 09 2008 10:10

The wording of that job application is interesting... Lots of 'working with' and no 'reporting to'.

"You will provide, along with the Union Finance Team"


Dec 11 2008 21:42

I'm also intrigued by the use of the word 'company' in several places in the job description....

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See Also

  1. Snippets - 18/07/2008
    18 Jul 08 | Snippets
  2. Union Review of the Year 2008
    20 Jun 08 | Spoof
  3. Snippets - 11/06/2008
    11 Jun 08 | Snippets

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