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Union Insight – Annual Members Meeting 09/05/2018

Surrey students turn up for the Annual Members Meeting to discuss the future of the SU

Report by Theo Donnelly

On the 9th of May, the largest and arguably most important yearly meeting of the Students’ Union took place in a packed lecture theatre and began with the usual formalities. The minutes of the previous AMM, the annual report from The Board of Trustees, the Union’s accounts/budget, external affiliations and annual report from the Union were all presented and accepted fairly rapidly.

The first objection came in response to the ‘Continuing Policy’ section (of which my favourite page lists 23 rules for running a bar crawl), in particular to the policy committing to the participation in the National Student Survey (NSS). The objection came from a student who felt that the data collected by the survey was mainly used for the increased marketisation of higher education. He argued that any benefit gained from the NSS could be replicated by locally run surveys and as such we should withdraw from the NSS. The opportunity to speak against this motion was taken up by the SU President who argued that local surveys, whilst useful for smaller issues, simply do not have the same level of impact and response numbers as the NSS. Furthermore, due to NSS affecting ranking tables, it can be used as a great bargaining tool against the university, with the new study spaces and healthier options in Hillside being cited as improvements that came directly as a result of having the NSS. The motion was voted down with a majority, no count was needed, and as such the policy will continue.

Next began the motions listed on the agenda. The first two motions both concerned the liberation committee and were submitted by the same person with the objectives of forming positions on Exec for members of the Liberation Committee (LibCom) and creating two new positions on the LibCom: a Trans officer and the controversial Men’s officer. Additionally, both these motions had amendments submitted by a pair of students who wanted to change the structure of how LibCom members would be added to Exec and remove the notion of the Men’s officer.

However, very little of the above was discussed due to the interjection of a procedural motion submitted by members of the LibCom themselves who wished to refer the issues to another body, motion one to the Democracy Committee and motion two to the LibCom. Their reasoning behind this was that the LibCom should decide if they want to create new positions on the grounds of autonomy and self-definition and the elected representatives should decide if any members of the LibCom should sit on Exec. The member who submitted the original motions argued that referring them to other committees would only extend the period of time it would take to implement these changes as well as the fact that these meetings are nowhere near as well attended as the AMM and don’t allow voting from all members of the Union. The procedural motion was passed 130 to 107 with a large number of abstainers, possibly due to people not fully understanding the implications of what they were voting on.

The third motion called for the Union to support the creation of cooperative housing initiatives in Guildford in an attempt to combat the housing crisis. After a brief speech explaining the benefits and giving examples of other universities where similar schemes have been successful (Edinburgh, Sheffield, Birmingham) the motion was passed by an overwhelming majority.

Motion four was proposed by the VP Community-elect who wanted to replace one of the Community Zone Exec positions with a RAG Executive Chair (Raising and Giving) responsible for organising fundraising events for various charities. This was passed with equal speed and enthusiasm as the previous motion, and I for one was delighted on both counts.

The proposer of motion five on the agenda was denied permission to speak on the grounds that the motion broke data protection regulations.

Motion six, entitled ‘Protecting Students Workers 2018” called for the living wage be implemented for all student workers employed by the Union, no longer hire through temp agencies, and promote more unionisation of student workers. In the time given to the motion proposers to speak (admittedly a fairly stingy two minutes, no different to any other speaker though) they spent the majority of it attempting some strange Michael McIntyre-esque joke about the price of drinks in Simply Fresh, questioning the upper University management, and suggesting they take pay cuts. The VP Community gave a short but pragmatic speech against the motion arguing that discussions on the living wage for staff had taken place but the opportunity cost of raising wages for part-time student workers must be considered. Also, without temp agencies, events including the biggest nights in the Rubix calendar, such as Halloween, would not be able to run due to lack of staff. The motion fell and no count was required.

The last motion wished to change the structure of the Board of Trustees. The speaker argued that the Board should have significantly more student members as its sole purpose is to work for students. Currently, there are six student trustees and five unelected non-student trustees. The proposal was to change this to nine students (five Sabbs, the Chair and three newly elected positions) and three appointed trustees. The VP Activity argued that the motion would destroy the current good relationship we have with the University that allowed for an increase of funding from last year, losing the experience gained from sitting on the board for an extended  period of time. He also pointed out that the appointed trustees were the loudest voices when it came to paying workers living wage. The VP Activity also pointed out that no consideration had been put into the increase in cost for Surrey Decides when adding the three new student trustee positions, which apparently would be significant. Finally, he promised that there would be an increase in student trustee ratios, but it needed to be a less hostile transition and rushing it with one motion would only cause more issues. Both a procedural motion to vote in parts and the original motion itself were voted down by a majority with no need for a count.

The final segment of the AMM, entitled ‘Any Other Business’ which consisted almost exclusively of discussing the ‘Union Staff Diversity Report’ with the positive takeaways being a large number of female staff in senior management (67%) and low gender pay gap (0.85%). It was noted that improvements could be made in those employed from ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ backgrounds (16%) and numbers of staff with disabilities (3.5%), and that changes in the recruiting process were being looked at to address this.

The AMM was ended with an emotional sign-off from the Chair, who may even have had a tear in his eye.

 

Analysis by Theo Donnelly

Overall I thought the AMM ran smoothly and was well-attended. The only major unanticipated hiccup was the decision of the LibCom to submit a procedural motion to refer motions one and two to different committees. I thought this was interesting as it shows they did not wholly disagree with the motion, but nor did they trust those present at the AMM to pass amendments they felt were appropriate. Instead the LibCom wanted to make the decision themselves, and perhaps rightly so, but with questions from the floor asking why the LibCom don’t have a budget for themselves it will be intriguing to see possible rise in power of this relatively new committee.

On the data protection issue with the retracted fifth motion, it seemed extremely unfitting to deny the motion without expanding upon exactly which part breached the rules, despite these regulations being set by the government and therefore out of the Union’s hands. It was also disappointing that there was clearly no attempt to implement the motion without violating the data laws, especially as the Union carry out multiple survey reports a year and have experience in this area yet could not lend any advice for this motion.

On the student workers motion, I felt as though the speaker’s joking used up all their time, which could have been filled with logical arguments to why passing this motion could have made a difference to student workers, but strangely laughs don’t correlate with votes and the motion fell. However, there are several other flaws in this proposal not mentioned by the VP Community. For starters, it’s a tough ask to take a motion seriously that cites a Guardian article that simply states more students are working during university for a variety of reasons, from money for socialising, rent and gaining work experience, not due to “increasing marketization of education” as claimed by the motion. I think this motion raised some good points and certainly opened my eyes to the potential exploitation student workers face (even if there currently is very little) but the execution wasn’t there, the lack of presentation focus and seemingly no attempt at communication with those responsible for employing students, thus finding out the reality of the situation, ultimately was to the motion’s detriment.

A similar case could be made for the last motion, on restructuring the Board of Trustees, as  once again the speaker did not use their time as well as I think they could have done. Aside from arguing that the board should be run by students as it is for students, there were very few tangible reasons as to why the current student representatives were doing a bad job and how adding new inexperienced students would improve the situation. In contrast the VP Activity, who was tasked with speaking against the motion, gave a clear and concise list of points as to the what the negative implications of passing this motion would be. Perhaps, this shows that there is room for compromise on the motion, with a less drastic majority introduced over a period of time, indeed the VP Activity promised there would be more students on the board in the future. We will see if he is able to keep that promise, if not personally then by future Sabbs.

In conclusion, this year’s AMM was a success overall, with important motions being passed and, even those that did not, inspiring interesting debates. Hopefully the University and the Union will continue to make positive steps forward as we look ahead to next year.

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