Students’ Union rocked by scandal

Chris Lillycrop has handed in his notice just weeks after taking up the position of Coordinator/VP Services at Cambridge University Students' Union (CUSU), The Cambridge Student (TCS)has learnt.

Lillycrop's resignation from CUSU comes at the end of weeks of political manoeuvring by last year's sabbatical officers , all designed to prevent him from introducing the biggest policy commitment in his manifesto – taking direct control of staff line management.

Currently, CUSU's four permanent staff members are managed by Duncan Mann (a former director of the Association for Managers in Students' Unions (AMSU), and currently (an unelected) Union Development Manager for CUSU. As TCS revealed at the end of last term, staff morale is abysmally low. A survey sent to all permanent staff before the vacation revealed that four out of the seven staff then employed rated office morale as either "poor" or "very poor", with two also asserting they were "very unsatisfied" with CUSU's management structure. Lillycrop is not the only member of staff to be leaving CUSU Ents Manager, Mathew Morgan has also just quit the organisation, having taken up employment elsewhere.

Lillycrop's pledge to take control of line management suffered from the moment he included it as a manifesto promise. At the time, his manifesto was redacted by the Elections Committee, who, citing legal reasons, removed the line "the Union Development Manager costs 10% of the CUSU budget: we should stop spending money on a position we do not need, and cannot afford".

When TCS reported the redaction, and gave Lillycrop the opportunity to respond to it in a comment piece, the CUSU Board of Trustees – a body made up of five of the six sabbatical officers and an external member – tried unsuccessfully to prevent the paper from going to print, delaying publication by two days. It was only after they took legal advice at the request of the Editor that the paper was finally allowed to be published.

After Lillycrop took over as Coordinator, the assault continued. TCS has obtained minutes of a meeting between last year's sabbs which clearly indicate Union Development Manager Duncan Mann was deeply unhappy with the proposed management changes, and warned he would be able to take legal action if they were implemented.

We have chosen to release information in the minutes because the CUSU Trustees should be accountable to the 22 000 students they claim to represent, and it is clearly in the public interest that a full and accurate account of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of an elected officer be published.

In Mann's view, the way Lillycrop "intended to act on his manifesto pledges" was "inappropriate", the minutes reveal. Mann felt "his options would narrow down to, if sacked, legal action/complaints". He went on to ask CUSU "if an exit strategy could be reached."

The sabbs discussed the possibility of a pay-off for Mann  in order to prevent their perception of threatened legal action from taking place. Clare Tyson, last year's Coordinator, suggested "we could come to a compromise agreement with Duncan, and without admitting liability offer to pay his notice period salary and some payment above that. If he signed a compromise agreement it would close off his right to make a later claim."

Despite what seems very much like a veiled threat by Mann, who surely felt his days were numbered, the sabbs ultimately chose to back him. Tom Chigbo, last year's President, suggested it was preferable to "reassure" Mann than to challenge him, and rather than offer him a pay-off, they decided to make the Board of Trustees as a whole responsible for any changes to contractual terms of employment – effectively preventing Lillycrop from implementing the changes he had promised without the consent of his fellow sabbs.

This is not the first time that Mann's conduct has come under scrutiny – during the CUSU elections concerns were raised regarding Mann's alleged role in the redaction of Lillycrop's Manifesto and reported in this newspaper.

The official CUSU line, from new President Rahul Mansigani, is that Mann "has never threatened CUSU with legal action, nor has he ever asked for a pay-off." What actually happened, according to Mansigani, was that "the CUSU Coordinator became aware of staff concerns about elements of Chris intended changes to CUSU's staffing arrangements."

Mansigani, who was not present at the meeting in which Mann's pay-off was discussed, went on to say "the Trustees judged that the procedures through which they discharge their legal responsibilities for staffing matters were not sufficiently robust to adequately protect CUSU from exposure to legal risk."

However, former CUSU Chair Grayden Webb suggested the motive for changes was political rather than legal. In his view, the alteration of Lillycrop's responsibilities "appears to be a last ditch attempt to prevent him executing his manifesto policies.

"Lillycrop was known for speaking the honest truth and standing up for what he believed in, leading him to clash with last year's sabb team on several issues," he added.

TCS contacted both Union Development Manager Duncan Mann and former CUSU President Tom Chigbo for comment, but did not receive a response from either. Current CUSU Chair and former Education Officer Sam Wakeford chose not to go on record with a comment.

Lillycrop described the loss of the right to manage staff as "an important element of my decision to seek employment elsewhere.

"I would like to add that I have wanted to (be) CUSU Coordinator for more than 3 years, and it is a source of enormous sadness to me to be leaving CUSU in this manner, but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that this decision is the right one for CUSU, and the right one for me. I have great respect for the goals and abilities of the other (new) sabbs. I wish them the very best of luck over the coming year and I will do everything I can to assist them in the time before I leave," he said.

So, where does all this leave CUSU?

An elected student officer has apparently been forced out of office by an unelected employee, who allegedly, instead of serving the Union, spends his time threatening legal action against it.

A new CUSU President has denied any legal action was threatened, no new Coordinator can be elected until October at the earliest, when term starts again, and all this has happened in the period when the Coordinator should be free to focus on organising the Societies Fair, one of CUSU's biggest revenue generators.

Things do not currently look good for our students' union.

James Burton - Associate Editor

The views expressed on this website are not necessarily the opinions of Cambridge University Students' Union or The Cambridge Student Newspaper. Comments expressed are the opinions of individuals and not necessarily the opinions of Cambridge University Students' Union or The Cambridge Student Newspaper.

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