There’s been a lot of talk about the last meeting of ICU Council (a lot of it on the Live! discussion forums) and particularly about the rather disorganised manner in which it came to an end. Interestingly, no-one seems to be talking about the real issue – which is how the hell the Union ever got itself into this situation in the first place.
Members of the Union’s Budgets Advisory Group (BAG), myself included, had spent most of the past several months discussing and arguing over club & society budgets. The task BAG faced wasn’t an easy one – even the most optimistic appraisal of the financial prospects for the next year necessitated a 40% cut to the overall budget request of all clubs and societies. In the process of examining each club or society budget the Group progressively produced a refined version of the Union’s rules for distributing money to clubs. These little talked about recommendations were tabled first at the Student Activities Committee, and then at the last Council.
As matters turned out, the Union received a more generous financial settlement from the College than expected. BAG went back through the budgets again, allocating additional funding that had been rejected on the borderline the previous time. Unfortunately, as anyone in the Union knows, it’s impossible to please everyone. Thanks to an unprecedented effort to allocate funding fairly and consistently across nearly 300 Union societies some societies felt that they had lost out more than others.
The case in point are LeoSoc and Choir, and the real issue revolved around the allocation of what the Union terms “Instructor Fees”. BAG requests had included an amazing £100,000 of expenditure on instructors (requesting £40,000 of Unions subsidy) – and the decision reached was to allocate one term’s worth of instructors to all clubs.
The reason that Council descended into farce was that both the Student Activities Committee and then the Council decided to alter this rule, with SAC allocating a full instructor’s budget to LeoSoc and Council doing the same to Council. This is, of course, completely within the rights and powers allocated to these committees, but it is also the duty of those committees’ members to carefully consider the impact of their decisions.
By setting a solid precedent that the Union would fund instructor fees fully SAC and then the Council left themselves open to a whole raft of appeals from clubs who had requested but not received Instructor Fees budgets. The beginning of this was seen during the course of Council considering the other appeals – with Rugby club requesting and receiving a full instructors budget. After the written appeals had been dealt with a verbal appeal on behalf of Women’s Football was heard and granted on the same basis. Then came the killer blow – motions to allocate full funding to all societies for “Copyright Material Hire” (another rule altered by Council earlier that evening, though less critical since the Union could probably afford to fund this) and “Instructor Fees”. Both motions were completely fair and equitable and there could be no argument against them – except that they were completely unaffordable.
So began the real argument and the real farce. A few hours after Choir’s appeal had been heard the Union’s entire budget unravelled. The members of BAG present were left staring in dismay at the mess – taking absolutely no pleasure in having loudly and clearly warned SAC and Council about it several times over the past week.
In the end, an emergency meeting of the Executive Committee took action by forcing through the budget as-is, and passing Union Policy that the precedent set during the Council meeting would not be honoured. This was, everyone acknowledged, grossly unfair – but it was also the only option left in order to make sure the Union actually had a budget for next year.
This was not the fault of the Union President, Deputy Presidents, or BAG – the blame rests squarely with the members of Council who voted to support these appeals without considering the consequences. There were ways to allocate funding to the Choir without causing this mess but they were never explored. Ultimately the regulation breached was by far the most important the Union has: point 82 of the Meeting Standing Order – “members must think before voting”. Imperial College students deserve better.