Earlier tonight, Trustee Board papers from a meeting earlier this year were leaked onto the Indymedia newswire. They detail yet another power grab (though this time it’s an effective coup) in the Guild of students by the senior management team. If you want to know why having an elected student Trustee Board is so important see what they get up to when you don’t have one.
Here’s the article:
At a recent Trustee Board meeting of the University of Birmingham Guild of Students the board voted to approve a new ‘delegation of authority’ granting new sweeping powers to its CEO, Jo Thomas and the two senior managers Mike Garrett and Adrian Blower. The proposal itself being written by none other than… Jo Thomas!
Delegating a great amount of authority to staff members isn’t an unusual thing for a trustee board to do in a charity. However student unions are not supposed to be run like a normal voluntary sector charity, they are supposed to be representative organisations run democratically by their members. This recent delegation of authority represents a power grab by the senior management team and a severe attack on democratic student control over their union.
It doesn’t help that the trustee board making these decisions behind closed doors is the only student union in the Russell Group with a non-student majority on its board. Neither does it help that the only board members who are elected are four sabbatical officers, with everyone else being selected by an appointments panel which includes university managers some of whom are then ‘approved’ by the union council which has no choice over who gets put forward.
New powers given to the Guild CEO and the two other senior managers include:
1. “Proposals for small scale redundancies”
This power used to lie with the Human Resources committee which sabbatical officers sit on, but now the senior managers can make up to three staff (a small department) redundant on a whim without the slightest consultation with any elected official. Redundancies are often controversial such as the loss of full time staff for volunteering societies last year. This is a key power that should be with students.
2. “Overall management of the budget to ensure that resources are utilised efficiently and effectively to deliver the strategic plan”
This is most worrying as it effectively gives total control of Guild finances to senior management, taking it out of the hands of committees which elected sabbatical officers sit on. Giving overall management of the Guild’s budget to the CEO and the two senior managers to “ensure” it delivers the strategic plan is bad enough, but wait till you find out who gets to write this plan…
3. “Reporting on the needs of the membership and ensuring that the plan continues to meet them”
This comes under section 3 – Setting & Monitoring Strategy. So what this effectively means is that the CEO and senior managers also get to unilaterally decide what the needs of students are without consulting with any actual student and thus write the strategic plan themselves. Elected student officials (nevermind Guild Council) now have no say in determining what the Guild believes its members interests to be.
4. “Reviewing performance of all service areas and providing reports to the Board”
1, 2 and 3 give the CEO and the two senior managers dominating executive control over the Guild. However they are still theoretically “accountable” to the Trustee Board for their actions and can have their powers taken away again by vote. This power means that the three people who have all the executive power in the Guild also get to “review” the performance of the Guild and report back to the Trustee Board. In other words they get to review themselves, no doubt they’ll come back with very positive reports! And since the Trustee Board consists of mostly unelected non-students who meet very irregularly and have next to no knowledge of the actual goings-on of the Guild they’re not likely to object to these reports. Thus this power blocks holding the managers accountable for their use/abuse of powers 1, 2 and 3.
5. “Organisational Training & Development within budget”
Sabbatical officers undergo six week training period 9-5 before taking their posts. Previously this training schedule was set by the outgoing sabbatical officer team, however now the senior managers have the power to train incoming officers as they see fit. This is important because key to maintaining their effective control of the Guild is the managers already strong influence over the sabbs. The sabbs give a public face of the Guild’s operations to students, creating a facade that it is run by elected representatives when really it is shadowy managers who we’re forbidden from even naming who really run things. This new power strengthens further the managers ability to influence the officer team. Give them a student for a month and a half and they’ll groom a loyal sabb.
With these changes the Guild is less democratic and student orientated than ever. Sabbatical officers are now little more than interns in a senior management run student union. By these changes Guild Council is made mostly irrelevant as the officers who receive council mandates find themselves without the powers to meet them even if they tried.
But it looks like the students might have had enough of their union turning into the university management’s student branch…
The full motion to the Trustee Board can be seen here:
Appendix to motion including full breakdown of delegation of authority http://www.mediafire.com/?mkhbtnn14t4s248
Which was originally posted HERE.