The introductory term of the 2009/10 LUSU budget has made a significant impression on Equality, Welfare and Diversity officers as a large budget cut takes its toll.
The budget, drafted at the end of last year by LUSU President Michael Payne, brought in a radical reorganization of the funding available to different sabbatical remits. The Education, Welfare and Diversity (EWD) funding became the largest casualty by far, incurring a 26% cut. The reorganization of funds also rearranged the manner in which money becomes available, placing the funds into a single EWD reserve which Vice President (EWD) Torri Crapper can organise amongst her part-time officers. The proposed budget passed at Union Council with very little opposition.
Crapper has experienced both positive and negative effects as a result of the changes. She has maintained since the budget was announced that the cuts were a detrimental move.
The decrease is particularly relevant in EWD, she argued, when “we are only in the second semester and I have a seriously depleted budget, with officers who want to run campaigns within their own colleges and across campus which I will be unable to fund […] I have no right to dampen their enthusiasm for these campaigns which they believe are important to their students, but facilitating for so many campaigns with such a limited budget has had a huge effect.” She added: “I’ve only got £600 worth of my budget left for this academic year… people are asking me if I have enough money, and I think that’s proving that I don’t.”
However, Crapper agrees she has gained control and focus over her remit because of the way for which funding is now applied. The principle of funding being allocated by the EWD Council to proposed campaigns and causes has been generally praised, with Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) Andy Johnston reasoning at the time that “committees are where you get the flow of ideas.”
The decrease in the amount of campaigns the EWD officers can run this year awkwardly coincides with a growing student response to the area. Chaz Ginn, Liberation Campaigns Officer, remarked that the cut is hardly ideal given “the positive increase in students attending EWD conferences; perhaps most notably sending delegates to the NUS BME conference.”
Ginn feels that funding student attendance to conferences and events is a critical area that could suffer and suggested that alternative solutions, including an additional conference reserve, could be considered. The LGBTQ officers, attempting to cope with the largest specific cut, have had to apply to other reserves simply to pay for all their officers to be able to attend conferences.
A prevailing fear is that further areas under the EWD remit could suffer similar drawbacks, leading to failing officer effectiveness and an inability to run new initiatives. Newly-elected Welfare Campaigns Officer Pete Macmillan reinforced this concern. “The budget cut could impact me in the future with campaigns such as BullyProof since large sums of the budget have been spent on other campaigns,” he said.
Despite the budget cuts remaining a contentious issue, the principle of funds being placed in a reserve managed by the relevant sabbatical officers and their councils has been widely received as successful. “It empowers individuals and groups of students, as they can now request any amount of money, within reason and constraints, to initiate campaigns” Ginn reflected.
The consensus appears to be, however, that there is work still to be done. The largest concern remains centred around misrepresenting, or failing to represent, the student body. Crapper argues that “with so many officers, all of which support students directly, we do need a larger budget,” something with which Macmillan fervently agrees. “When [budget cuts] impact on the welfare and equality rights of our students, I feel we have lost our way as a Students’ Union,” he said.
Whilst admitting that that situation is still only a risk rather than a reality, Macmillan maintains that it needs attention, especially when “academic issues such as the ongoing battle regarding tuition fees are becoming more relevant to students.”