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?
Last term we completed a reorganisation of the Union’s retail operation arising out of the merger of three shops on campus, reducing excessive management costs in the process. We also sadly had to take the decision to close the Union’s travel shop following a move of the bulk of its trade to online providers.
This term 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 for customers. 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 also 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.
Will live music at UEA be under threat?
There is understandable concern about this, but the plans are designed to both secure and strengthen the live music offer at UEA. We have worked with experts in the industry and successful students’ unions to formulate a new staffing structure that will ensure we keep the biggest acts coming to UEA and ensures the Waterfront both remains open and is the region’s major venue for new music and student talent.
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 term 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 formal 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. This process of consultation includes the ability for staff, both individually and collectively, to feed in their views and evaluation of the proposals; to ask questions or seek additional clarity where the feeling is that this is missing; and to contest any grading decisions reached on new roles.
In conjunction with Unison we have received feedback on the timetable for consultation with staff and have agreed several changes designed to give staff time to feed in. All views and suggestions will be considered in good faith.
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. Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies but we will do everything we can to avoid them.
Why don’t you campaign for a bigger grant from the University to make up the shortfall?
The Union continues to campaign for a better grant- but the truth is that the Union’s management structures, particularly in the commercial areas, are inefficient. The Waterfront alone has six management posts. It is clear from discussions that the University will not invest extra money to prop up an inefficient commercial management structure- but it may well invest in new services and activities that directly benefit students.
I hear that you’ll be asking busy students to take the jobs of existing managers?
In some areas of the operation we will be asking some casual staff- the bulk of which are students at UEA- to take on more responsibility- if they want to. This is in line with most other SUs around the UK, and will give students more experience at all levels of running the union, giving students valuable technical and managerial skills to leave UEA with. However the union will retain a large team of specialist, permanent, management and technical staff to support the running of the operation.
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 been 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”, made up of elected students and lay advisors, 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 the duty of determining the staffing complement 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.
The Trustee Board delegates some responsibilities to the Management Committee, which is made up of the four elected Sabbatical Officers.
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:
o Proper consultation with all relevant bodies has occurred over plans to cut the number of permanent retail staff
o 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.
What about the petition calling for “Fair Treatment of Union Staff”?
A petition has been circulated which makes three demands of the Board/Management Committee. The demands are as follows:
“1) For the current restructuring process be halted immediately, until the campaign for a higher Bloc Grant is 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 [commercial] 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.”
“2) For the Management Committee and the Trustee Board to confirm that there will be no compulsory redundancies within the newly introduced structure”
The Union has a freely negotiated redundancy agreement with Unison, which sets out what will be done in the event of the union needing to make redundancies. It does not rule out compulsory redundancies- instead it sets out the steps the union must take to minimise them. We have a constructive relationship with Unison and continue to work with them to minimise compulsory redundancies wherever possible.
“3) That the plans for restructure are re-evaluated, clearly defined, and properly graded with a new timeline, through consultation with staff.”
The current plans are out for consultation with staff. This process of consultation includes the ability for staff, both individually and collectively, to feed in their views and evaluation of the proposals; to ask questions or seek additional clarity where the feeling is that this is missing; and to contest any grading decisions reached on new roles. In conjunction with Unison last week the Union has developed a new timetable for consultation with staff and have agreed several changes designed to give staff time to feed in. This process of consultation with staff through their recognised union continues apace- but it is done in meetings between UUEAS and Unison; it would not be appropriate to run that consultation with students directly.