CUSU’s headquarters at 17 Mill LaneLouis Ashworth

CUSU began its attempt to escape financial woes this week, revealing limited information about its ongoing expenditure in an effort to boost transparency and accountability.

Broad positives for the struggling student union, including a cut to to its projected losses this year, were marred by a semi-public scrap with CUSU-funded paper The Cambridge Student (TCS) and a muted reception at Monday’s Council.

Using year-to-date expenditure statistics, CUSU reassessed its predicted losses for this year: expected now to be in the region of £70,000 including savings, possibly falling even more once the student union receives additional funding from the central University.

CUSU’s attempt to give an appearance of belt-tightening, however, was marred slightly by the context of those savings. The most substantial overall saving made was to its expenditure on affiliation to the National Union of Students (NUS). CUSU has been charged just £250 so far this year – it had budgeted to pay £10,527.

Explained Why is CUSU in such financial difficulties?

The student union is currently suffering substantial losses following the collapse of a publishing contract. CUSU had previously had deals with St. James’s House (SJH), which produced publications including a series of careers guides. CUSU has been attempting to move away from the contract, on which they claimed SJH had been slow to deliver – a claim they later attempted to backpedal on.

Without the SJH income, and following the collapse in years past of its nightlife enterprise, the student union has been shorn of its two major revenue streams. It has already suffered substantial losses to its reserve funds, likely in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds, and received a bailout from the University in 2015.

Until it can figure out new ways to make money, the student union is being forced to make cuts to services. It can also go to the University itself for more funding, but central administration has criticised the student union before for a lack of clear objectives, and any increased reliance on Cambridge’s money damages CUSU’s ability to credibly act independently of the University.

Click to show

At Council on Monday, where the figures were presented, CUSU president Daisy Eyre expressed apparent surprise at the saving. She told Varsity on Thursday that CUSU “routinely make it clear to the NUS that our budget is small compared to other unions, and it seems that they have responded to this.”

Too busy to read everything? Subscribe to the concise Varsity Brunch Briefing

A round-up of the week’s news in Cambridge, delivered into your inbox every Sunday morning. Sign up today!

“We are very happy that they have reduced our fee; though ultimately dismayed that a union at a university such as Cambridge should be paying such a small fee compared to comparable NUS affiliates,” she added.

NUS did not reply to a request for comment on why CUSU had been charged a reduced fee.

The relationship between CUSU and The Cambridge Student was publicly strained at the beginning of the week, with both releasing statements admonishing the other – before settling upon an unclear resolution.

In a briefing document released ahead of Monday’s council, CUSU wrote: “Print continues to perform far below that expected with a significant loss in revenue from TCS expected for the end of the year.” When contacted by Varsity, the TCS board of directors stated that they were “surprised to find [their] financial situation discussed in the mid year financial budget review,” and had contacted Eyre “about what we perceive to be regrettable inaccuracies.”


Mountain View

Analysis: CUSU finances remain strained, despite hints of improvement

In response to this, Eyre said that CUSU had “confirmed to [TCS] that the document accompanying the Mid-Year budget review is accurate.” Beyond this, Eyre added that CUSU have “no plans to change TCS’ funding.” The subject was raised again at Monday’s Council, when Eyre spoke of wanting to clear up “inaccuracies” surrounding TCS overspending its budget – an accusation which had not been made by either party to begin with.

On Thursday, Eyre told Varsity: “Over the weekend, there was a communication issue between TCS and CUSU that led to some confused press coverage. This was resolved through private communications between ourselves and TCS in which we confirmed that the paper was making a loss. Overall, we are concentrating our efforts on other income streams, such as our new careers project and on BlueSci, our other publication. While print advertising is in decline, niche publications like BlueSci are doing better.”

CUSU’s budget for the 2018-2019 academic year is set to be passed in Easter term. Its new “careers initiative,” which made its debut in 2017, underperformed financially in its first year. This was attributed to “limited market information to work upon” and not promoting the event until “the start of Summer.” However, with claims in the budget review that feedback on its new careers initiative was “positive,” and “presents optimism going into future,” CUSU trustees have decided not to change income projections.

Meanwhile, the CUSU financial enquiry has begun its investigation into the student union’s substantial losses. Connor MacDonald, who is chairing the enquiry, said: “we had a very productive first meeting. Daisy and CUSU have been very helpful, and we look forward to a more in detail meeting next week.” In its next meeting, the enquiry plans to meet with Gareth Marlow, one of CUSU’s longest-standing trustees.

Sponsored links