Since 2020, the security of the University block grant given to Lancaster Students’ Union has been uncertain. However, after a successful bid saw over £400k added to this year’s block grant, is the Union entering a new era of financial stability?
In 2020, due to financial constraints, Lancaster Students’ Union announced that netball and football C teams as well as recreational sport development teams were going to be suspended. This was met with criticism from the student body, and eventually a petition coined ‘Save College And Rec Sport’ was published on the 24th March that year. This petition claimed the decision was “to the detriment of current and future students, and their mental and physical wellbeing.”
Receiving 1326 votes, the petition reversed the decision and prompted Atree Ghosh, 2020/21 VP Union Development, to put forward a paper titled ‘Campaign For An Increase In Our Annual Block Grant From Lancaster University’ to the Executive Committee.
The paper was approved on the 14th July and the Students’ Union began to “actively lobby the university and campaign budget for a substantial increase in the block grant given to Lancaster University Students’ Union, without reducing grants or funding given for any other student union led activity, campaign or role.”
Despite the approval of Ghosh’s paper, the University announced a potential £288k cut from the Students’ Union block grant later that month – reducing the grant by 33%. This was the first time the block grant had been threatened since 2016 when the University and Union mutually agreed to freeze block grant funding for three years.
In an article published by the 2020/21 FTO team, the potential effects of this decision on the “student experience” was highlighted. The article noted the reduction would affect everything from “sports clubs and societies; Academic Reps; JCRs and PG Board; student campaigning; the Advice Service; Welcome Week; the salaries of student staff, full-time staff, and FTOs; and so much more that forms your student experience.”
“With the ongoing Pandemic, our commercial services are facing unprecedented risks and a significant reduction in their net profit. Combined with the University’s suggested cut in the block grant of £288k leaves us in an extremely uncomfortable position as an SU,” the FTO team explained.
Two months later, the FTO team issued a block grant update stating that “following the release of our original article, discussing the possible impact of the cut, and successful negotiations between the Students’ Union and the University taking place, the University has confirmed a 15% cut to the block grant for the coming year.”
This was a drastic improvement from the original 33%, however it still meant less income would be gifted to the main charity fund areas like societies, JCRs, and Advice.
Thankfully, the following year the University block grant returned to £871,750.
Looking forward to the 2022/23 academic year, a Freedom of Information (FOI) request issued by SCAN: Student Comment and News has revealed that this year’s block grant received a £403,625 increase (excluding £50k dependent on in-year delivery). This is the first substantial increase in the University’s block grant since 2016.
Lancaster University has said, “This year’s funding to the Students’ Union reflects an increase to allow the Union to plan for activities which previously were bid annually. Additional recurrent funding [has been given] to support events for students after a successful bid to the University Planning and Resources Group and an increase for inflation and increased core services post-Pandemic.”
Delighted by the £400k increase “to support events for students,” Lancaster Students’ Union has said: “We are very grateful to Lancaster University for the increased block grant that has been announced. This allows us to plan further increased activities and support for students post-Pandemic after a successful bid to the University Planning and Resources Group. It also reflects an increase for inflation.”
Commenting on the prospect of improved student events, one student told SCAN, “It’s about time they gave some of this money back to students. Every society I’ve been a part of has had to scrounge money from the Students’ Union just to stay afloat – and I mean really basic essential stuff; safety equipment, first aid training, Roses support – and it’s ridiculous. I want to see this money going into stuff students need – no more Roses stages that nobody cares about.”
Another student added: “It’s only a good thing if the Students’ Union uses it right, the more it directly improves the student experience the better.”
However, since this statement was released, new information has come to light regarding the terms and conditions of the Union’s successful bid to the University Planning and Resources Group.
Although the University did assert that this year’s funding “reflects an increase to allow the Union to plan for activities which previously were bud annually,” it failed to declare that due to the increase, no additional bids could be made for the rest of the 2022/23 academic year.
Callum Slater, VP Union Development, has now confirmed that the block grant increase came with the condition that “further bids are not made for additional funding.”
Slater explained that, in recent years, due to the Union not having “sufficient resource to fund some of the vital services and events” such as Extravs, “unique case-by-case basis requests were made to the University for additional funding.”
Slater highlighted that these were “not routine, standard bids.”
With the Union now unable to make these “case-by-case requests,” Slater confirmed that in real terms, the Union “does not have additional resources on last year to deliver more activity or increase budgets.”
This contradicts the Union’s previous statement.
With the annual report and financial statements for the year ended in July 2022 yet to be approved by the Trustee Board, SCAN’s investigation into the Students’ Union block grant will remain active.
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