On 23 February 2011, a confidential internal SU memo entitled ‘Security of Stock and Cash / Changes to Procedures’ was e-mailed to all its casual staff, the Commercial Services Managers, the Senior Management Team and the SU Sabb officers. This memo informed its recipients that in the Valentine’s Day stock-take, after just the first six weeks of winter term, the SU had a deficit of £11,000. As the document itself then clarifies, this is equivalent to a loss of approximately £300 per day.
The e-mail (sent by the SU’s Commercial Development Manager) continues with a dispiriting analogy: ‘To put the size of this deficit in perspective it is equivalent to us having given away free of charge every drink, ticket (advance and door) and piece of food served last Friday, day and night, at all venues.’
The Students’ Union has not informed any of its non-employed members of the loss of this money. Interestingly, the losses are roughly equivalent to a single UK student’s entire tuition fees commitment for a three year degree.
At a time when cuts to higher education could hardly be more prominent in the national consciousness, this slippage seems particularly objectionable. The memo assures staff that there are ‘no significant findings’ of any evidence of theft through examination of CCTV footage, or mistakes in stock data entry.
In a possibly related move, SURHUL is currently advertising on its website for a new Venue Manager.
‘Accountability’ and ‘transparency’ are words in almost all SU Presidential and Sabbatical manifestos, but there was no way students could have discovered these huge losses without an anonymous leak to The Founder. SU President Rachel Pearson has not updated her blog since 3 November, and the other Sabbs’ blogs are generally no more recent; it comes as no surprise, then, that none of these mention the lost money either.
However, when approached for a statement, the SU had this to say:
‘A recent stock take at the Student’s [sic] Union highlighted a significant retail loss. As is standard practice, and in line with ongoing development changes to the operations of the Commercial Services department, stock control procedures have been reviewed and amended. Specifically, we have increased our stock monitoring provision and added additional controls around stock access, deliveries & wastage. Supplementary periodic checks are also being undertaken in addition to our planned schedule of monthly stocktakes.
‘The membership survey conducted by the Students [sic] Union in May 2010 resulted in our current Business Development Plan. One of the key elements in this is enhanced provision of service to our membership. This includes improving our communication & transparency and in line with this a confidential memo was circulated to all relevant staff to provide information regarding changes required and ensure an understanding of the reasoning for such changes.’
Unfortunately, as evidenced by the memo’s confidentiality, the improvements in ‘communication & transparency’ occasioned by the membership survey appear to be benefits experienced only by SU staff, not SU members.
The primary loss of £11,000 is not the only financial difficulty detailed in the memo, as it tells the staff that ‘there is an additional £1750 of wastage and out of date stock documented and £2269 of staff drinks allocation…’.
The memo then lists an action plan which attempts to ensure such losses don’t occur again, including suggestions attempting to ensure efficiency so that no stock errors or thefts can occur again.
In order to temporarily alleviate financial pressures, all end-of-night complimentary drinks for all SU staff are allegedly suspended, to save an estimated £2,000 per month, to the obvious displeasure of some of the hardworking students whose hours regularly extend into the late early hours to ensure others have a good time on their nights out.
The memo also ensures that there will be random and more frequent stock takes and CCTV reviews for the rest of the year.
The memo ends: ‘Whilst we recognise there are many staff that would never entertain the idea of acting dishonestly and who strive to work to the highest of standards at all times we need ensure that high standards of integrity, efficiency and quality of service become the norm throughout our operations.’
An £11,000 deficit in half a term is unlikely to have been achieved through even cumulative small losses alone, but no further criminal or otherwise investigative action appears to have been detailed.
However, even without damaging incidents such as this, the SURHUL will almost certainly have to face ever increasing pressure from ever more financially-straitened and financially-conscious students.
EDIT: After this article was published, the SU contacted the Founder requesting a statement clarifying their position be attached. Follow the link below for the statement: