Not long ago, Union Council asked us to publish information on our block grant. This is a fixed, untied grant that we receive from the university each year to support our services. The surplus made from our commercial services (such as The Pub, The Shop, our gigs and club nights) then props up the rest of our activity.
Currently however, our business model is failing. For the last three years, the Union has been running a budget deficit of between £100k and £250k. For a number of years, the union has been posting a deficit at the end of the year- in other words, it’s been spending more than it has been making. Because the union had built up a reserve, this was OK for a few years, but unless action is taken to make savings and increase income, the reserve will run out.
As a result all areas of the union are being looked at to make sure that the union survives and thrives in coming years. This includes a mixture of reducing unnecessary costs, increasing commercial revenue, arguing for more grant funding and reorganisation to become more efficient so that more of the union’s money can be spent on things that directly benefit students.
Why is the Union running a deficit?
The reasons for our financial decline are varied but also reflect some national trends. We have strong trading figures in a traditional student union commercial model, but pessimistic budgeting has allowed for a masking of trading variances. The most prominent change has been the weakening of alcohol sales and this is mainly due to a culture shift in drinking behaviour. Seen by many student unions across the country, at-home-pre-drinking is the preferred and cheaper option for students before a night out. Hence, custom in our pubs and bars has taken a bit of a hit.
What’s the story with our block grant?
Meanwhile, there is one way in which we do differ from other unions. We receive a significantly smaller block grant compared to most of our competitors: around £500k per year. The following graphs illustrate the great divide. Universities included are similar in size, campus-based, and some are part of the (now devolved) 1994 Group, of which we used to be a member.
Last year Union Council passed a motion (1254) that believed the following:
The University of East Anglia is in a strong financial position, even more so since its decision to charge new students tuition fees of £9,000.
- That creative and viable methods to address the deficit should be explored and implemented.
- The annual block grant from the University should be increased significantly.
We would like you to know that this has not at all been forgotten. The Full Time Officers have assessed the Union’s position and taken significant steps to initiate a strong partnership approach with the University. We consider ourselves to be an integral and yet autonomous part of the institution. Moving forward we have:
- Set up six annual meetings between University Senior Managers and the Union to discover the long-term strategy and financial position of the Union
- Presented our case for an increased block grant to The University Council (Legal Trustee Board)
- Presented our case for an increased block grant to over 50 members of University Staff
The University has also recently confirmed that it will donate £6 million to redevelop Union House and the surrounding student facing services. This comes as incredible news, but remains separate to our conversations about increasing the block grant.
Our main message here is that we as the Full Time Officers are working hard to increase money being spent directly on improving students’ lives by both increasing the revenue we get through our commercial services and through campaigning for a higher block grant from the university.