Thinkin' bout reformLouis Ashworth

As I hope you’ve seen, CUSU is currently holding a referendum to update the Constitution and Standing Orders alongside the main elections. CUSU’s Constitution and Standing Orders are the most important documents for the organisation, which is why the Union Development Team, led by myself, have spent this academic year consulting with students to bring them up to date.

We wanted to make our governing documents more flexible

I’ve watched with interest many of the ideas, suggestions and plans of the campaigners asking for your vote at this election. It’s hugely inspiring to see the optimism and the powerful potential for change that CUSU can usher. The reality is, CUSU has been changing and improving over recent years and our reputation among students has increased dramatically. However, our governing documents, our constitution and standing orders, don’t reflect where CUSU is today.

So what are the changes? I’ve outlined the bulk of them in an overview document on the CUSU website, but in a nutshell: it’s now more legally sound. While the CUSU constitution was last amended in 2012, it’s not since the 1990s that the Charity Commission has seen changes.

Once we’d consulted and discussed changes with the University, we ran the changes past our lawyers and past the Charity Commission and they are content with the changes we have made. CUSU’s charitable status means that it must comply with the Trustee Act 2000 and the Charity Act 2006, which, among other things, introduces obligations for charities to ensure that the funds are held accountably.

We’ve also put in better provision to support student groups. As many of you will know, CUSU supports The Cambridge Student newspaper (TCS), but how that relationship works has never been spelt out in the Constitution and Standing Orders. We’ve now put in special provision to allow CUSU to support more student groups.

We’ve also included provision to hold your elected representatives to account. Rather than the current system of having to take the quite drastic action of a vote of no confidence, we have put in provision for censure, which allows Council to give their elected representatives a warning. We also have a clear code of conduct which we expect members to abide by and we hope next term to bring clearer guidance on how to use the Council Free Budget.

Ensuring that our fourth charitable object, concerning access to the University by those less represented in the student body, was enshrined in our Constitution was also key to the changes. It underpins the work of the Access and Funding Officer, is a ‘public good’ and as we suspected, the Charity Commission agrees and endorses this view.

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we wanted to make our governing documents more flexible. The current constitution includes specific clauses on operational and day-to-day matters of democracy which most organisations, such as hours, would have included in their Standing Orders.

The new Constitution allows students, through CUSU Council, to have more say about how CUSU actually works and I hope that I have been able to lay the foundation for future Union Development Teams, led by the president, to amend the documents as quickly as CUSU evolves.

As the Union Development Team have made clear throughout, while this referendum will be binding on the Constitution, this marks the start of a much longer process of amending our Standing Orders. The Standing Orders can be amended by CUSU Council and we hope to kick off the work which subsequent Union Development Teams will pick up on amending and updating CUSU’s democratic and operational procedures on a much more regular basis.

I’ll be the first to admit it: it’s a hard sell. Constitutional reform rarely gets the juices flowing but I hope that students see the changes as necessary, and vital if they want CUSU to be agile and continually improve. We need just over 2,000 students to vote in favour of the changes and I’m confident that, with the current level of interest in CUSU, we can

Elections 2017

Comprehensive elections coverage

The latest news and analysis on the CUSU Elections, all in one place.
Visit Varsity’s Elections 2017 hub.