CUSU Financial Inquiry calls for greater communication between Union and students

Sophie Laura Weymes-McElderry 14 May 2018

The findings of the Financial Inquiry into the use of the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU) budget has been released today, and calls for a better relationship between the Union and the students it represents.

The Inquiry, set up in Easter 2017 following the Union’s shock £72,000 deficit in the 2016-2017 fiscal year, concentrated on the termination of the contract between CUSU and St John’s House, and the earlier cut to TCS’ budget in 2016. 

In his speech to CUSU Council, leader of the Inquiry, Connor MacDonald labelled these, "reasonable decisions".  He added that he was "consistently disappointed" with representation at CUSU and that council members ought to be more scrutinised individually.

Over the course of a series of meetings in Michaelmas and Lent Term 2017-2018, the Inquiry was able to make a decision regarding CUSU’s handling of its budgetary proceedings. Whilst TCS’ funding was reduced in order to pursue “more lucrative opportunities”, the contract with St James’ House, a publishing company, was terminated early due to the poor quality of the products the company published for the Union.

Though the Inquiry found CUSU’s answers “convincing”, the Union was criticised for the poor communication of these decisions, which the Inquiry judged generated undue controversy.

Eyre said of the report in a statement to TCS: "I found the inquiry process incredibly helpful and would express my thanks to the students involved who put aside their time to investigate ways forward for CUSU's finances. I think a lot of their recommendations have a lot of merit and I do believe that the focus on communications is well placed – and an area that I think has seen a lot of improvement over the last year or more. It was very valuable to have students involved in our reflections on the situation with our budget, and hope this can continue, perhaps through the Union Development Team".

The Inquiry document lists four ways in which CUSU can better liaise with the University’s student population in an effort to reduce the “consistent lack of transparency”. Lack of clarity seems to have been particularly prominent in the discussions between CUSU Council and the CUSU Trustee Board, which did not provide the Union with sufficient information regarding the reasoning for the shift away from TCS and the obligation to use up CUSU’s cash reserves.

As a remedy, the Inquiry proposes that the CUSU President “be mandated to report, under the constraints provided by law, on the activities and decisions of the trustee Board as regularly as such meetings are held.”

CUSU Council was criticised for its “lack of participation” in financial deliberations, noting that representatives rarely read budget documents in detail, especially the lack of representation of Cambridge students on the Council, describing it as “woeful.” Consequently, the Inquiry recommended the creation of a bi-termly CUSU sub-committee for the discussion of financial matters.

The report also highlighted the need for better, more formalised relationships between CUSU’s Sabbatical Officers and the student press. It suggests a separate meeting to present the budget for members of the student press, as well as regular updates throughout the Michaelmas and Lent terms for both members of the press and the wider student community through events held outside of the CUSU Council structure.

This article has been updated to include comments made by Connor MacDonald and the statement given by Daisy Eyre.