I was elected on two main pledges. The first, my main campaign priority, was to increase our block grant, from a position of chronic underfunding, to a position where we would at least match the block grants of the best funded student unions in the country. My second pledge was to change our Guild; to make it more transparent, more effective, and to create a Guild that every Exeter student feels they had a voice in.
Central to that pledge was to open our processes and to give you an insight into our decision making. In that light I wanted to ensure that alongside the practical ramifications and rationale for the transfer of the Guild’s commercial services, outlined in our statement and FAQs, you understood how we got here and what the transfer means for the ongoing development of our Guild.
The discussion around the Guild’s finances hasn’t happened in isolation, it’s been led by an evaluation of what the Guild does, and needs to do, for all our members (that’s you, the students!).
It was clear to me from the moment I began my Presidential campaign that the Guild did not have the financial resources or capacity we need to be able to support the long-term campaigning and infrastructure needed to tackle the roots of structural roots problems at Exeter. In order to make sure the Guild can focus on your priorities, campaigning, advice, activities and representation, we needed a stable financial foundation and funding stream. A set amount of money we knew we would get every year. Currently, we didn’t have this. And our historic debt and Covid-19 lockdown severely impacted the income from our commercial services. I knew we had to make difficult decisions and approach the University directly.
Liv Harvey (VP Activities) and I entered into a discussion with the University wherein we spoke passionately about the need for a better funded students' union for our students. Incredibly, we secured a large one-off payment to clear our historic debt, and successfully negotiated an estimated £400,000 increase in our yearly block grant, making us one the best funded, through block grant, students’ unions in the country.
I can’t overstate what a massive win this is. In a time when the entire sector is faced with uncertainty, and when other student unions are getting their budgets cut, we’ve secured long-term financial security.
Part of ensuring this security was making the agonising decision to transfer our commercial services. This decision wasn’t taken lightly, and other Full-Time Officers and I have spent hours inside, and outside, of meetings deliberating and debating this transfer. One of the red lines the University put in place in order for us to receive the block grant increase, was to demonstrate we are financially responsible, and that involved transferring our fluctuating and inconsistent incomer from our commercial services so that any new block grant income is spent on students.
Then, when we saw it was the right and only option for the Guild, to ensure students are still at the heart of services, we agreed. We have come to an arrangement with the University that all services will still run with student impact and oversight, but we will not be financial liable. Over the coming weeks when we’re able to tell you more about the process where you will see we’ve ensured minimal disruption and to embed opportunities for student views in the future directions of these services.
The work isn’t over yet, the transfer is being finalised and we know that financial stability isn’t the only issue we needed to overcome to be the students’ union you need.
But for the Guild going forward this has created a new space, a space to reimagine what we look like, what we mean by democracy and engagement, what a Guild that is led by, and for, its students looks like.