CUSU announces its budget deficit

Alex Coke-Woods 18 October 2007

The finances of Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) are facing a serious setback, it was announced on Wednesday. The Students’ Union was caught unawares by an unanticipated shortfall of £30,000 on last year’s Budget.

In a report presented to members of the CUSU executive and representatives from JCRs and MCRs across the university, CUSU services officer Adam Colligan disclosed that the Students’ Union had been over-optimistic in its revenue forecasts for the previous financial year, which ended on July 30th 2007.

“Last year’s services officer ran a deficit of approximately £30,000 and had no idea until I told him,” Colligan said in a statement given at CUSU Council.

Colligan, who as services officer is responsible for CUSU’s budgeting and finance, admitted in an interview with TCS that “it could look bad,” but stressed that figures were still preliminary and were yet to be audited by accountants.

He added that the shortfall in last year’s revenue could raise a number of potential questions for levels of spending in this financial year.

“I’ve prepared a new budget in case things start going wrong this year… I basically went through the Budget and said: ‘If I want to slash £22,000 out of the Budget this is how I would do it,’ ” he admitted.

Last year’s Budget, written by Jennifer Cooper and passed by CUSU Council in Easter Term 2006, originally anticipated that CUSU would break even over the period 2006 to ‘07. A process of consultation with CUSU sabbatical officers, staff and executive committee members is supposed to ensure that money spent on services such as the Freshers’ Fair, access campaigns, the alternative prospectus and the careers guide does not exceed the money coming in from revenue sources such as TCS advertising and CUSU Ents.

But mistakes in CUSU’s original financial predictions meant that ex-services officer, Ashley Aarons, was forced to make revisions to the Budget in Michelmas term 2006. Over-optimistic income predictions were taken into account in Aarons’ redraft, but although revenue targets were revised down “they still weren’t hit”, according to Colligan.

“Ashley came in at the worst possible moment… from a standpoint of trying to make everything run smoothly,” he said, adding: “The environment was not as conducive to making income as was represented by the predictions that were given to the… ’06-’07 team, and they had to work harder and spend more in order to make money.

But according to Colligan, Aarons had not been made aware of the £30,000 deficit. “Ashley’s impression… was that the ents manager and the business manager were saying that everything was fine.

“I talked to Ashley in the summer and he seemed very surprised that there would be this deficit,” he said, continuing: “The problem that we had is that no-one seemed to realise until… mid-August”.

This is not the first time that CUSU has managed to run at an operating loss of thousands of pounds. Over the course of 2005-06, CUSU finished the year with a shortfall of £16,855 – a deficit which almost doubled in 2006-07.

However, as Adam Colligan points out, CUSU’s purpose as a charitable organisation is not to make money but to spend it, providing services to students.

“We’re not in a financial position where we’ve been depleted by this,” he said, adding that CUSU’s reserves fund, intended to tide the organisation over in the event of a “rainy day”, continues to stand at over £100,000.

CUSU were also keen to point out that less money had been taken out of the reserve fund for the move to their new premises at the New Museums Site, than was originally anticipated, largely due to the efforts of Ashley Aarons.

“Ashley saved a ton of money on the building move,” Colligan said, adding that CUSU had also succeeded in recovering a large amount of money previously written off as bad debt .

Alex Coke-Woods