Following our recent dialogue on Twitter and on our blogs I took the opportunity to meet up with Kenny Budd (Kent Union VP for Societies) and some other society members today to discuss our thoughts on the way the Kent Student Union runs its societies.
Here’s a brief write-up of our conversation.
Society members present were:
- Richard Bellingham (AGS Associate Member & Committee Member) (RB)
- James Galloway (AGS Senior Member) (JG)
- Kim Britnell (AGS Member, SFX Committee Member)(KBr)
- David Stibbards (AGS Member, SFX Member)(DS)
- Laurie Anders (SFX Events Officer)(LA)
- Andrew Moran (AGS Associate Member)(AM)
Before the meeting we composed the following talking points for discussion with Kenny:
- Online Memberships & List Management
- Online Elections
- Welcome Fair
- The Treasurer’s Role
- Uses for our Budget
- Handling Charity Money
- Availability of Contacts to discuss Society matters
First of all I stressed to Kenny that we were grateful he was taking the time to meet with us to discuss various issues that affect societies in dealing with the Union. We appreciate that the flaws in the system are institutional and not his personal fault, though as a second term VP we do feel that he is in an ideal position to start making changes for the better.
Item 1: Online memberships & List Management
We first discussed the general aim of the SU to raise additional funds for small societies on the belief that they are currently under-funded. This was the primary reason for the increase this year in the minimum membership fee from £3 to £5. In addition KB explained how smaller societies would now have access to larger amounts of grant funding due to the various alterations in the funding structure.
While it is doubtful that we will ever be able to move back to a cash collection basis at the Welcome Fair, KB told us that he is working on viable alternatives to people having to sign up for each society separately online or queue for extended periods at the cash office.
One possibility would be for students to ‘collect’ societies they wanted to join by using a bar code scanner or smart phone app and then paying for all in a single transaction on the web store.
JG mentioned an alternative possibility that had been considered before; some sort of pre-paid chit system. He noted that this had not been implemented due to the potential for forgery.
RB raised the issues of keeping track of members and adding new members to the mailing list when people are able to join at any time online. KB said that any student member of the committee can be given access to the membership list allowing for someone other than the president to be designated the job of keeping track of this.
(Note: Perhaps we should designate a member of the committee who is responsible for keeping our own records up-to-date from the official Union list. Perhaps calve out the mailing list management from the Webmonkey’s position and give the job of adding new members to this person as well?)
RB asked if it might be possible to have an e-mail dispatched to a set address or list of addreses whenever a new person joined the society. KB said he did not know as he is not completely familiar with the system’s features. KB to investigate possibility.
DS winced at the new price of £5 and suggested that joining multiple societies was becoming an expensive proposition. KB stressed that the societies are good value even at this price, but on further discussion suggested the possibility that societies might be able to choose to be exempt from membership fees if they were also exempt from receiving grants or other funding from the SU.
Item 2: Online Elections
KB described how the online election system had been rushed in during the previous year despite a lack of any consultation process with societies. He admitted its faults and said he hoped that improvements could later be made. In the meantime for the elections in 2013 the online system would not be mandatory and societies will be free to choose offline elections with an SU returning officer.
The dissemination of results from the online voting engine was also discussed. All agreed that the results should be returned to all members rather than just the outgoing president and other members of the committee.
RB asked about quoracy on the e-voting system and KB confirmed that this is not a consideration for elections run online.
Item 3: Welcome Fair
RB asked if they would have the annoying two-tent structure again this year and KB confirmed that it would be “even worse this year” due to the unavailability of space used last year. A new addition will be exterior ‘market stall’ style booths for societies.
Item 4: The Treasurer’s Role
We discussed what purpose the Treasurer serves when the union disallows much handling of money due to their due dilligence practices in association with the Union’s charitable status. DS said he felt it would be ideal if Treasurers were actually given responsibilities and held accountable. KB indicated that he agreed but that it was a matter of overall union policy due to their need for compliance with laws surrounding the conducting of charities.
(Note: I would like to investigate exactly what the guidance is from the Union of Students as a whole on this subject and cross reference with the actual legal requirements levied by the Charities Commission. It would be interesting to see exactly who or what is mandating the removal of responsibility from student committee members.)
KB said that he is hoping to implement an online banking system to enable treasurers/societies to have direct control over their finances, even making electronic payments subject to union confirmation. This would eliminate one of the largest bureaucratic issues and remove a large bottleneck in societies’ dealings with the SU.
Unfortunately he feels this is unlikely to be implemented within the year and might indeed take up to three years to be fully implemented.
Item 5: Uses for our Budget
KB indicated he felt that societies should be more or less free to do as they wish with their budgets but that this was not necessarily the case quite yet.
We did not have time to discuss this in depth but I would be interested to know if the following applications are viable:
- Purchasing raffle prizes for charitable events or in order to entice members into joining the society
- Purchasing food or drink for social events (The message seems to be very muddled on this. Some years it seems to be okay, other years we’re told it simply cannot be done)
- Paying for travel & accommodation of guest speakers
Item 6: Handling Charity Money
We all expressed our irritation at the way in which RAG has been mandating the handling of charitable donations as a result of society events. In particular KBr said that on at least one occasion the money raised by SFX had been delayed in donation and was then donated under the name of RAG rather than the name of SFX.
KB said that he would be working to remove admin functions from RAG and bring them back to the Union. He also said that he was sure the new RAG committee would be dedicated to working with societies in order to help them.
RB & DS suggested that they would like to have a member present during the count in order to prevent late notification of the result and as a way of ensuring honesty from RAG.
Item 7: Availability of Contacts to discuss Society matters
KBr said that she had had some difficulty getting to talk to the administrative member of staff at the union due to her being busy, on holiday etc.
KB said there will be two full-time staff members from September making it easier to get in touch with someone. He is also willing to be pestered on Twitter or otherwise to assist with any problems.
End of Meeting
We thanked KB for his time and told him again that we were grateful for the chance to meet with him. As Associate Members in particular it is easy to feel disconnected from the governing body of the societies and it was good to have a chance to discuss with him.
KB repeated that he would be glad to field any questions or receive ideas on improvements for consideration.