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Live! - Opinion

This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

Anyone seen a budget?

Jun 21 2003 10:32
Oliver Pell
The real story from this week’s Council meeting isn’t the merits of quorum ? it's how the Union’s sovereign body was ever able to make a series of such bad decisions.
It's prudence, Jim, but not as we know it.

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.

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Discussion about “Anyone seen a budget?”

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.
Jun 21 2003 11:20

Perhaps it's time to think about allocating the budget differently...perhaps more tailored to the different CSC (I think thats it) groups, and then allocating inside that.

My reply to the fact that "oh, once we've given the money to this club, then all of them will come back and appeal" is that if they havent bothered to appeal already (considering by this time of the council meeting, they'd have 2 others chances to appeal) then weho says they would have bothered in the end? Of course, they could appeal, but then again, you could say that they couldn't be bothered to appeal in the first place, and had relied on other clubs to do their work [Choir had appealed 3 times in total, 3rd at Council 17/06].

Jun 21 2003 12:37


Though I had to miss Council and proxy my democratic right, I think I'm clued up on what happened.

And how DARE you blame and accuse those who voted against your whim. It's not a slight on all your hard work on the Budgets.

It does however reflect that your case was weaker in the eyes of Council than that of those appealing. You presumably explained the dire 'consequences' of their actions and yet they still voted as they did.

Granted the evening was a slight sham (and some people continue to embarrass the medical school with their complete lack of cognitive function) but if your case was so compelling, I'm sure your oratory mastery would have persuaded Council.

Jun 21 2003 13:29

I wish someone could actually write a sodding article which states clearly and precisely what happened, rather than moaning about how their point of view wasn't heard totally, or how their sage advice was ignored.

What people who are involved in clubs and societies want to know is whether or not the budget appeals, and extra funding granted by council thereon UPHELD by the executive, or were they overturned? That is to say, what was the bloody outcome of the meeting, not who was the protagonist of yet another slanging match and points scoring debacle which we term 'council'.

Jun 21 2003 14:21


Just to clarify something about the Choir thingy (oh, and you might have made it a bit clearer - budget appeals agreed by Council were honoured by Exec).

"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."

The point about the "precedent" is that it wasn't, in fact, a true precedent. Ed Brown proposed an amendment to the choir appeal, in which their accompanist fees - hitherto in the "instructors' fees" category - were re-classified in a new "accompanist fees" category.

As I understood it, the rationale for this was that they had been incorrectly filed under the "one size fits all" category of instructors fees (fair point, really). Hence, the only exception to the rule was LeoSoc.

The other aspect of the Exec resolution was that the excess money should go to the SAC reserve, which is specifically not allowed to be spent on club budget items that Council did not agree in its last meeting. Of course, either Council or a referendum could overturn that... ;)

5. Seb   
Jun 21 2003 14:30


I suppose you could look for the minutes, if they have been taken and put up on the union site yet.

I can give a brief account, trying to be as neutral as possible, but recognising that people will probably have different views on how the meeting went. I've made use of Choir as an example, I'm not actually a member of Choir on some sort of rant.

The meeting started late as described in another article, the budget appeals were moved to the front of the Agenda, so as not to force the people who had turned up for their appeal to have to sit through some of the more obscure stuff like officer reports, constitutional amendments etc.

Some societies appeals won, others lost. However, some of the appeals that were passed overturned precedents and recommendations, such as funding Choir for two terms of instructors (though in the end I believe that the actual funding was attributed under a new category; “accompanist”).

This creates a problem in terms of what can be described fair.

As Oliver points out (and he will know better than I do as I have not been directly involved in BAG other than at the receiving end), the Union obviously receives far more requests for money than it has money to dish out. One way of dealing with this problem is to stick to a "one size fits all" policy and fund all clubs "equally": I.e. every club will only receive one term of instructor fees.

However, the other point of view is that the relative importance of what a club uses the "instructor" category (for example) for should be taken into account.

“Rugby”, says this point of view, “can survive with only one term of instructors” (I think in this case this would be a coach) whereas Choir successfully persuaded me, as a member of council, that they could not survive with only one term of an accompanist. This raises questions regarding the budget categories and the definitions of what those categories fund are sufficiently fair, whether they are weighted towards sports clubs, or other clubs etc. Is an accompanist really equivalent to an instructor? Etc. People again have different views on this issue.

This seemed to split council into roughly three factions: Sports Clubs, Arts Clubs and the BAG members.

The BAG members were seriously concerned that by overturning a fixed and easily defined rule we would be opening the floodgates to a tide of entirely reasonable requests that we could not easily argue against but which ICU simply couldn't afford, leading to arbitrary refusals of appeals. As we can probably all agree, this would most likely result in accusations that clubs with lots of council members were getting preferential treatment. I think this would be a misrepresentation. Obviously, CSC chairs vote for the good of their societies: that is their job, other than that though I think people are fairer and more reasonable than they are often given credit for.

The Arts group seemed to think it was ridiculous that arts clubs should be restricted to one or two terms of activity, and the sports group seemed to think it would be unfair to discriminate between different levels of importance in the use of "instructor fees".

Obviously, this does not do anything like full credit to the actual views of individuals. I suspect everyone was fully aware and appreciated the other groups arguments, and all were seeking a genuinely fair settlement, but disagreed over what could be called fair.

All three points of view are valid. The problem being that once council moved away from BAG's easily defined and objective line in the sand on the budget allocations, it comes down to a far more subjective argument carried out between the sports and the arts groups over what is fair. This is precisely what happened. Rather than the arts group and sports groups making totally unreasonable claims on the money left over just for the chance of grabbing a bit of the pot, I think both were trying to get the other to accept that this was the end of the budgetary line and to get everyone to agree that the remaining money could not and should not be allocated to any further budget appeals. This is, I think, what the emergency exec decided to do in the end.

The actual debate and behaviour may have seemed absurd, petty at times and perhaps lend itself to being portrayed as oneupmanship and “getting the last word”, but from my point of view, I don't think anyone was actually engaging in this kind of childish behaviour, but were in fact trying to create a workable and sustainable budgeting policy. Nice as it would be, you can not operate something as complicated as the budgeting of over 200 clubs with different aims and objectives, many of which can not easily be compared to each other, on a simple common sense basis of “council knows best”, thus the Union needs to have formal and informal rules, and what this final debate seemed to really be about was coming back to some lasting agreement on what these rules were having ignored them completely in order to pass some appeals that council was persuaded were genuinely unfair on the clubs in question.

A mammoth task though it is, perhaps the Union should consider reviewing the budget categories and definitions in such a way that applying hard and fast rules on particular categories has similar effects across the board rather than differing effects from club to club. The instructor fee is a case in point. Certainly more needs to be done to encourage sponsorship, but we need to recognise this is something that needs to be phased in, it’s too late to tell Clubs that they must go and find sponsorship for next years activities: we should be telling them that now in preparation for 2004/2005.

Also, we should recognise that some clubs are going to find it easier to get private sponsorship than others, and that “branding” will have an impact: A Medics choir will attract more sponsorship from alumni than a general Choir. I've got a few very vague ideas, but I doubt they would actually work, or someone would probably have implemented them by now.

To finish the ramble, I’d just like to say that taking a closer look into some of these "absurdities" often makes you realise that people behaving in what first appears to be a very stupid way are actually trying to make the best out of a bad situation, and have good, sensible reasons for doing what they are doing. Often, having considered the situation fully, you may find yourself coming to the same conclusion

6. Seb   
Jun 21 2003 14:34

Actually, I suppose that doesn't say what happened on reflection.

Ettiene has come along and explained most of it anyway:

I think all of the appeals made by council were honoured by Exec, no precedent was set, and the remaining money was ringfenced. My memory of the exec is a little hazy as I don't vote on it and stopped paying attention.

Jun 21 2003 14:37

Before you start aruging again... all of you (with the exception of Simon Pascoe) seriously need to go on holiday.

As Simon correctly points out, you cannot apply the same (inflexible) budgeting critera for different types of clubs. Until 2001/2002 (Sen's first year as President) we DID treat clubs in a more flexible manner.

Unfortunately "certain people" found this flexibility confusing (in terms of dozens of different categories on the Union finance system) and decided, as all good bureaucrats do, to "standardise" everything all club budgets into one-size-fits no-one arrangement.

The Union does have a duty to treat clubs "equally and fairly". The best way to do that is to recognise their differences. Different types of expenditure will have different levels of importance to different clubs.

Jun 21 2003 14:56

Ah hah - discussion, finally!

To respond to Prince Albert, I object to having BAG's recommendations described as my "whim". They were the recommendations of a democratically choosen body and have been accepted by a variety of committees.

My point was not that people set out to act sutpidly - in fact, no-one acted "stupidly" in such a narrow sense. People voted in the way that they felt consistent with their beliefs, which is fine, but they failed to take into account the full consequences. This is not a criticism of anyone in particular but rather of the whole which emerges from the discussion and negotiating between individuals with different ideas. This article is here to provoke discussion, not to insult anyone!

I would absolutely agree with Seb - no-one set out to be childish and no-one was doing anything except acting what they considered to be students' best interests. That doesn't affect the result.

Choir appealed to Exec prior to Council. That appeal was passed directly to Council so that it could be considered in full context of all appeals. The idea was that with all the appeals together Council might look at how funding guidelines should be changed to satisfy those appeals rather than taking a club-by-club approach. This didn't happen of course, for a variety of reasons which you can't really blame anyone for.

The view has been voiced that if people haven't appealed then its okay. I can understand that perspective though I personally disagree with it. Having spent what must be close to 70 hours in BAG meetings we tried desperately to ensure that we avoided cases of "those who shout loudest" getting more funding.

Jun 21 2003 16:33

I recall from the meeting that DramSoc, whose budget was also slashed, voiced that they decided not to appeal as they could "just barely manage" to operate in the next year; whilst they also said that Choir would be unable to operate for more than a term [see minutes for exact details].

I dont think that it is about "those who shout the loudest" win, its more along the lines of those who are desparate put in an appeal. As I cant seem to find any other records of appeals to committees (Exec page is severely outdated) I cant really confirm or deny if other clubs made previous claims or not.

Looking at the budgets however, I do hope Sinfonietta put in an appeal, as they only had a conductor for 3 rehearsals a year, which, for an orchestra is just stupid. Did they appeal? If so what was the result?

10. Nia   
Jun 22 2003 15:17

Maybe some 'softer' budget catagories might make it easier to compare different clubs on a more level playing field.


"Things we absolutely cannot function without"

"Things that would make life a lot lot nicer for us"

"Cherry on top type stuff"

Obviously they'd have to justify why stuff in the top catagory is in the top catagory.

Jun 23 2003 01:05

Handbags at six paces, please...

12. Seb   
Jun 24 2003 13:33


Actually, I was thinking about something like that. The only problem is that in the end it's going to be quite hard to actually objectively assess it. People will inevitably lie about what is essential, and in any case, normally this information comes out at BAG. However I didn't feel BAG was as flexible as it could have been (i.e. "well rather than give us money for X, give us the full ammount for Y instead as that is more important." didn't seem to go down to well.)

13. Eddie   
Jun 25 2003 00:10

But that is how it used to work. each CSC looked at in turn, so clubs were looked at by type. thus, catagories (even after their merger) were looked at differently between CSC, as the needs were difference. Of course this only works where CSCs contain a number of similer clubs... and doesnt take into account the FSA with clubs thing. but i hope readers can see where this is going.

Jun 25 2003 01:57

"Of course this only works where CSCs contain a number of similer clubs... and doesnt take into account the FSA with clubs thing. but i hope readers can see where this is going."

No no no.

(A very long time ago) CSCs and CCUs got direct grants from ICU that they dished out as they wish. Budgetting was then centralised (we're talking mid-1980s, I think - though the Medics didn't get centralised until President Heeps' reign).

It was not, as you imply, left to each CSC to define how to allocate money to their clubs (though CSC chairs were invovled in the process). The Union Finance Committee (operating through BAG) still made the decisions (just without being inflexible). Decisions would often be made across CSCs (e.g. many ACC club scenarios applied equally to RCC and CCU clubs).

Your assertion that it didn't work for CCU clubs (and hence that it wouldn't work for FSA clubs) is wrong. It did work. Sure there is a great variety of clubs in CCUs - but less so than in SCC (which everyone accepts is a dumping ground for clubs that don't fit in anywhere else). Yet this never prevented any of those clubs from being treated fairly. Sports clubs, for example, were treated in the same manner regardless of whether they were ACC, RCC, or affiliated to a Consitutent College.

I know where you're comment is going. And frankly it deserves to go in the bin. There are far better things Union Officers can do than piss off lots of volunteers by 'taking away' clubs from Faculty Unions whilst achieving nothing.

Weren't you one of the people complaining most bitterly about pointless constitutional reviews?

Jun 25 2003 02:25

Go Mustafa!

Can I paraphrase your second to last paragraph and use it in another place? :)

Jun 25 2003 02:42

"in another place" - are you planning on entering Parliament, Rob? :-)

Jun 25 2003 02:44

[Explanation for non-political-geeky types: "in another place" is the term used by their Noble Lordships when referring to the [House of Commons|]]

Jun 25 2003 02:59

Alas I wasn't in the Birthday Honours List, but just trying to hint - Barron of Ideas sounds a good title tho.

19. Eddie   
Jun 25 2003 09:08

"No, No, No" Mustafa, you have got the wrong end of the stick. I wrote a long post but as i had forgotton to enter my email addy, it lost it. Cant you put a confirmation screen on here to stop that?

ok, so my post wasnt clear. here is (some) clarification


1) I was talking about how it was done as recently as LAST YEAR. You were looking far more historical than me!!!

2) CCU clubs are just a fly in the ointment from regards of considering gropups of similer clubs together at BAG. of course on this occasion we could consider clubs as groups of simmiler clubs/societies and that would solve this small hiccup.

3) I do not believe in removing societies and clubs from FSA's WHATSOEVER. it generates some interesting anmolyies every now and then, but so does SCC, so who cares? just work around it ;-)

4) Have i mentioned how clubs in FSA's have a strong identity, like where they are, and help make the world go round. It aint broke, so Don't Break (some say "fix") It.

5) actually, generally. Dont Break things. Whihc is what I believe this years BAG has done.

6) and whilst we are on the topic. You are quite right, I, like you, dont like tinkering with the constitituion, there are a few "nice changes" to make, but i dont think most of it is worth the hassle. Gentle development rocks! Sudden change is just gonna f**k the system. If someone wants to change it, then thinking for a couple of years where to go to would be in my opinion the right idea. once everyone has agreed on where to go for two years then it is worth starting to put things into the constitution.

Dont forget to Breath....

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