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Mark Swindlehurst, Director of Facilities, and Jo Hardman, Head of Commercial Services, held a question and answer session for the 138 students present at the inquorate general meeting. The main topic of conversation was the changes to the college bars staffing structure. Ste Smith, LUSU President, announced beforehand that questions about individual staff will not be permiteed.
Hardman delivered a statement to the attendees, beginning with statistics to show a reduction in turnover of the college bars over the last few years. He also described the “hidden costs” such as heating and lighting.
He insisted all staff were consulted on the changes along with the relevant trade unions, adding that “due process has been followed – all current staff who want to continue working in the bars will do so”. Hardman reiterated that all jobs are also safe for student staff.
The statement also detailed some of the differentiation points that Commercial Services wish to implement in the bars. These include Tapas in Grizedale Bar, a Real Ale focus in Bowland, and creating a “party atmosphere” in Lonsdale.
Hardman also stated: “At the current level of usage [the bars] are not as loved as they need to be. We will put the time and investment into each college having a bar, but, and this is a big but, people need to show that they want that.” Swindlehurst added that their two aims were to “make the bars more attractive and enhance the experience” and to make the bars “financially sustainable.”
The key message of the question and answer session was one of a lack of communication. A member of Lonsdale JCR commented that they felt “out of the loop” regarding the restructure and this had meant that they “struggled with freshers week”. He went on to comment that they “only knew about the restructuring from Twitter.”
Angus Wakefield, the President of Furness College, raised the point that he had only discovered his college bar would not be open for Freshers’ Week through an article in SCAN. In response to this, Swindlehurst admitted that they “should have declared it wasn’t going to be finished earlier. We had to make a call. Last year we deferred the start of the refurb so we could accommodate Freshers’ Week. Maybe we would have done better starting earlier. We will hopefully be taking the bar and opening this Friday.”
Hardman followed this up by saying that “we need to improve communication.” The Lonsdale JCR suggested that members of managerial structure meet with the JCRs “every couple of weeks.”
One member of the student body raised the point that “Pendle has no licensee and is one of the worst performing bars” but Hardman felt that this was not a “determining factor”. There was a lot of animosity from the floor regarding the restructuring decision. With one member of the student body pointing out how “degrading” it had been to make the bar managers “apply for a demotion of two pay grades”. In response to this, Hardman and Swindlehurst admitted that they felt the redeployment of the bar managers had been “poorly thought out and poorly executed.”
In response to several of Hardman’s answers, one student asked: “What on earth does this have to do with a change to staffing structure?”, prompting a round of applause. Hardman answered: “We need people with the right skills at the right level of the structure in the right job. We need to look for a new structure. We need enough people on the front line with the correct skills. This is the structure that we believe is right going forward, and has been discussed with College Principles. There are some lessons to be learned on some things. We didn’t get it all right. Where we are now is where we should be. We will take these things on board, and look at a possible better way of handling the process in the future”
Despite constant reassurances that the changes are not about saving money, Jo Hardman and Mark Swindlehurst have worked out that “it would £3 per student per week to make the bars sustainable.”
When asked why he felt the usage of the bars was decreasing, Hardman stated: “This is a long term trend. There are all kinds of factors including people pre-loading from supermarkets. There are a number of students at this University that really love their bars, but the majority don’t seem to spend their time there. If it’s just about price we’re in trouble. It’s always going to be cheaper to buy a bottle of vodka in Bargain Booze and sit in your room.”
A member of Lonsdale Collge asked why their bar had closed earlier than the licence allowed during Freshers’ Week, suggesting that this might have enabled them to make more money. Hardman responded: “That is a very specific thing. Two reasons: cost saving, but what was agreed with the council and the university was that we would consult. This is a residential area. Rightly or wrongly, the view was that bars should close earlier than 3am with the exception of a couple of nights. Absolutely we could make more money by being later. If we are only seen as somewhere for one off events, they don’t work. We don’t make money if we rely on a bar stayng open til 3am five nights a year. We need to make the bars work all day.”
Having heard the responses offered by Hardman and Swindlehurst, one student asked how they intend to carry out the changes described in terms of differentiation points. Hardman confirmed that they had just employed a marketing assistant, and were “five days behind where we want to be on our marketing and promotions.”
After Jo Hardman and Mark Swindlehurst had left, along with the majority of students who were there, Ste Smith was asked whether or not he knew about the structural changes, as Swindlehurst had mentioned “consultation” with LUSU. Smith make it very clear that he “knew nothing about the restructuring until it happened” but went on to comment that he did not feel he could comment on the change personally but that it “was not the right way around it.”
Rachel Harvey, VP Media and Communications, felt the need to make it clear that this was not the view of the entire LUSU body, just of Smith and that she personally felt that the restructuring was simply “not fair.” She accepted that “change needs to happen” but insisted that she was “not happy with what has happened.” She also pointed out that LUSU had done what they could by calling the general meeting.