The Future of the Union + FAQs

The Union of UEA Students has today begun consultation with staff on a proposed reorganisation of its staffing structure. Having posted significant deficits for some years, the reorganisation is aimed at ensuring that the organisation is financially healthy, well managed, and delivering for members.

 Last semester the Union’s Trustee Board approved an improvement analysis and plan designed to accelerate the pace, and broaden the nature, of change within the Union. The plan sets out how the Union’s Strategic Management Team intends to improve the organisation. The reorganisation is key part of that plan and will involve a number of internal structural changes:

  •  Merging the operational elements of the Bars and Ents teams to form a Venues Management department to improve cost control, delivery and safety
  • Changes in Finance and HR with a shift towards better systems/processes
  • Securing additional support for the Union’s Ents team in the programming and management of the LCR and Waterfront offers
  • Forming a new Operations team to centralise union administration
  • Some changes to the Student Support Services structure to improve team coordination and support for elected officers

 Chair of the Trustee Board and Union Finance Officer, Joe Levell, said “We want the union to be well run, financially healthy and delivering what our members want in terms of services, campaigns and representation. Regrettably, delivering this will mean that a number of Union staff are at risk of redundancy. We will be working closely with the staff at risk and Unison as they explore their options for the future. Every employee will be able to access support to ensure that they are able to make the right choice.”

Questions

What’s going on at the Union?

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.

 What change is going to happen?

We are merging the operational elements of the Bars and Ents teams to form a Venues Management department to improve cost control, delivery and safety. There will be changes in Finance and HR with a shift towards better systems/processes. We will be securing additional support for the Union’s Ents team in the programming and management of the LCR and Waterfront offers. We’ll Form a new Operations team to centralize union administration and there will be some changes to the Student Support Services structure to improve team coordination and support for elected officers.

 Why is it all happening so quickly?

The Union has actually been making deficits for some years now, and there has been a recognition for the need to change for several years, but a quick turnover of senior management has allowed the deficit to continue and has brought the union closer to breaking point, requiring urgent action. Last semester the Union’s Trustee Board decided to take that action, and approved an improvement analysis and plan designed to accelerate the pace, and broaden the nature, of change within the Union. The plan sets out how the Union’s Strategic Management Team intends to improve the organisation. The reorganisation is a key part of making sure that the Union can deliver that plan.

 Have you consulted with staff?

The union began a consultation with staff on the 10th February, the process for which is governed by an agreement between the union and the staff trade union, Unison. The union is meeting both with individual staff and collectively through Unison to consult on the plans.

 Have you consulted with students?

The union works within policy mandates set by students on the union council, and the key decisions are made by students that are elected each year. In the past the union council has mandated the union officers to explore increased funding from the university, and last term it has also required that the union’s commercial services be “run efficiently, to a high standard, and generate a healthy surplus that can be ploughed back into the union”. These changes will help to achieve that objective.

 I hear a lot of people will lose their jobs?

The union only ever considers redundancies as a last resort, and one of the central purposes of the consultation that is happening now is to identify ways in which the union could avoid or minimise compulsory redundancies. Options being explored include redeployment of staff to other areas; voluntary redundancy; changing the nature of work patterns, and retraining.

 Why haven’t you consulted students directly on the staffing changes?

The union regularly consults with students to make sure that it is meeting students’ needs, both through the union council, customer feedback and initiatives like “What if”. However, consulting on the needs of students and the priorities for the union budget is different to discussing a redundancy process or staff terms and conditions- these are not allowed to be debated publically under the union’s constitution and instead are negotiated with the staff trade union, Unison.

 What else has the union doing to help the finances?

The Union has amalgamated the shops into one outlet and introduced the bakery and the night hatch, this has enabled us to increase revenue and save on costs.  We have improved the Tuesday and Saturday LCR offer and increased revenues and made efficiencies in the bar operations, acquired a later trading license for Saturdays, this year we have also launched a letting agency alongside home run, where we raise revenues from landlords by managing their properties.

 Who has made these decisions?

The union has “Board of Trustees” who are responsible for the “management and administration” of the Union. They are responsible for the budget of the Union and the strategy of the Union. They have set down an overall “improvement plan” for the union that includes 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.

 What about the motion passed at Union Council last semester?

At a meeting of the Union Council last semester, a motion was passed that called for fair treatment of Union Staff. It resolved a number of things:

  •  To advise the Board of Trustees that Union Council requests the process of potentially cutting the number of permanent staff is temporarily halted until such time as:
  • Proper consultation with all relevant bodies has occurred over plans to cut the number of permanent retail staff
  • The possibility of acquiring an increased block grant has been fully exhausted
  • To remind the Student Officer Committee of policy 1254*
  • To mandate the Student Officer Committee to publish information on the Union’s block grant relative to similar institutions 

*this called on the union to lobby the University to increase our block grant significantly

 On behalf of the Board of Trustees the management committee has considered this resolution in light of mandates from council and its duties in relation to the budget and strategy of the union.

 In relation to proper consultation, at present the union is consulting with staff on the ways and means of avoiding compulsory redundancies as per an agreement with Unison and will not implement any redundancies until that consultation process has closed.

 In relation to not implementing changes until the possibility of acquiring an increased block grant has been fully exhausted, the university has made it clear that it would not be prepared to fund an increase in the union’s grant if it was to be spent on maintaining unnecessary excessive management and staffing costs. As a result the management committee believes that the possibility of acquiring an increased block grant for the purpose of salaries has now been fully exhausted.

 Wider efforts to campaign to increase the union’s block grant to fund better services and activities for students continue apace.

 

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