CUSU budget threatens 17-year TCS print legacy

Stevie Hertz 21 April 2016

An email was sent to The Cambridge Student on Friday 15 April, informing senior members of the team that CUSU’s The Board of Trustees had proposed a radical “reduction in resource allocation for TCS in the 2016-17 Budget.” This plan would bring TCS’s 17-year weekly print run to an end and refocus the publication online.

The TCS Board of Directors was given two days of term-time to contest this proposal and put foward alternatives, before printing what could be our last regular edition on the evening of 20 April. 

TCS asked the CUSU Board of Trustees whether or not it would be able to defer this decision for a year, in which time the editorial team of TCS would take responsibility for reducing costs and increasing revenue. The editorial team of TCS currently has no say in the sourcing of advertising for the paper. Despite having been asked whether or not this delay would be possible a total of eight times so far, the CUSU Board of Trustees has said that they are “mulling over” the decision and cannot provide a response. 

Reduced print running costs proposed by TCS board members account to £10,000 per annum. The last publically available CUSU accounts submitted to the Charity Commision from 2014 show CUSU reserves standing at £376,832.

TCS has been assured that the suggest was first made at an emergency meeting of the CUSU board of trustees on April 11, and has been taken for “financial reasons”. 

No member of the TCS editorial team had previously been given any indication that the finances of the paper might be under threat. No member of the TCS editorial team was asked for their suggestions as to how the paper could reduce its running costs. 

Despite this plan being initially floated on April 11, as part of the annual CUSU budget it must, constitutionally, be presented at the first CUSU Council meeting of Easter term – due to be May 2. 

According to the CUSU Constitution, the budget should have “been made available for inspection at the CUSU Offices during office hours for the 2 weeks prior to the day of the meeting.”

This would have been April 18, however it has not yet been done.

In negotiations with TCS journalists, members of the CUSU Board of Trustees have warned against publishing any “commercially sensitive” information. 

In the last CUSU Budget available, TCS costs were forecast at £24,430, with £32,140 in sponsorship and contract income. This constitutes 3% of CUSU's planned expenditure for the year. This constitutes 3% of CUSU’s total expenditure for the 2014/15 year. Throughout the course of the academic year, CUSU’s total expenditure was just shy of £1 million.

Since its foundation in 1999, TCS has always recieved funding from CUSU. Since that time, CUSU has taken on a number of financial responsibilities, including provsions for a full time Access Officer in 2001 and, following a referendum earlier this year, full time Disabled Students’ Officer. 

According to Elsa Maishman, outgoing Editor-in-Chief of TCS, the paper “would simply not survive exclusively online. 
“We cannot switch immediately, with almost no warning, from being a primarily print newspaper to an online-only presence with the capability to rival the large scale, large investment organisation that is the Tab.”

Jem Collins, Chair of the Student Publication Association (SPA), condemned CUSU’s actions: “It may sound overblown, but student media really is vital to both university life and democracy, keeping students informed and holding power to account. It doesn’t just benefit those who participate, but the whole student body.

“For SUs to try and pull the plug on funding for something this important is frankly an embarrassment, especially when you look at the consistent quality of the work at TCS.”

She added: “Print media is still of paramount importance on campus, and enables engagement in ways you can’t emulate online and it’s important to safeguard this for future students. The SPA will work with TCS to help lobby against these proposals, which would be wholly damaging to the university, union and itss students.”

Jack May, the outgoing Chair of the Board of Directors of TCS, has commented that: “We have been put under extraordinary pressure by CUSU, who have given us negligible time to prepare for our own future. 
“In such circumstances, we have had to consider all possible ways forward, the most logical of which is to cut all ties with CUSU. If it is the only way forward, we will not hesitate to try our luck as an independent student newspaper.”