CUSU's offices at 17 Mill LaneLouis Ashworth

The audited CUSU accounts for the 2017-2018 academic year have highlighted a loss of £10,868 – more than £4,000 greater than the losses made in the academic year ending in June 2017, but significantly lower than initially expected, as the students’ union continues to pursue financial health.

Its total income of nearly £749,000 in June 2018 marked a decline from around £785,000 in 2017, although CUSU spending for the year was also down by more than £31,000.

CUSU has made an overall loss since 2015 through a major decline in commercial activities, particularly relating to its former careers guide produced with St James’s House, although in May 2017 it took on a new, one-year contract with the publishing house. Losses since the 2014-2015 academic year are now likely to reach around £140,000.

Last year’s losses of £6,836 were actually seen as a boon for CUSU, given initial losses were forecast at £140,000 in that year’s budget. Meanwhile, for the 2017-2018 academic year, expected losses were set at £75,000 – markedly higher than the £10,868 noted in the Charity Commission documents.

In comment to Varsity, CUSU President Evie Aspinall said: “In 2017 the Union made a shift to move away from print publications contracts as they were no longer generating the level of income that we had come to rely on in previous years,” and added that as a result, CUSU had “planned for a significant loss and budgeted to see a £75,000 deficit for the financial year 2017-18.”

“It was always the plan to replace this income with other commercial sources and especially to grow our digital advertising business over the next three years. It is due to the excellent work of our business team that we are ahead of schedule in the growth of our income from digital advertising and we [were] able to deliver [a] much lower deficit of just under £11,000.”

Aspinall further explained: “We also saw a smaller than budgeted income from our shared activities with the Graduate Union, mainly due to the reorganisation of our reception and shared staff resources, which meant that we received roughly £10,000 less than we had predicted from the GU.”

The vast majority of CUSU’s income last year came from donations, which rose by more than £13,000 to over £400,000. Income from charitable activities – including Widening Participation Schemes, the Sexual Health Service, and the Student Unions’ Advice Service – grew by more than £14,000 over the course of the year. However, this was also a result of more than £9,000 in income from the Sexual Health Service – which was not counted as a charitable activity in 2017. Aspinall noted that it had “previously… been counted as income to our shop and then the expenditure for the sexual health supplies had been put against the shop income,” so “in order to correctly allocate this as grant income the funds (and expenditure) have been moved to charitable activities.”

She added that: “The remaining increase in charitable income is due to cost of living and inflationary increases to our grants.” SUAS also brought in more than £5,000 in 2018 as opposed to 2017.

However, the increased deficit in the CUSU accounts came primarily from decreased commercial activities. While, in total, its societies festival, or freshers’ fair, publications, and member services brought in more than £172,000 in 2017, this fell to £149,000 by June 2018.

Encouragingly, the societies festival saw increased revenue of more than £10,000 for the students’ union – to nearly £77,000 in June 2018 – although revenue from publications and member services combined fell by nearly £35,000.

CUSU’s balance sheet was looking hopeful for CUSU this particular academic year, with boosted funding of £80,000 from the central University, estimated to bring 2018-2019 losses to just under £3,000.

In March, the proposed budget for the 2019-2020 academic year saw the students’ union present a proposed £5,522 surplus – the first in recent years.

CUSU has also benefited from a shift away from JCR and MCR contributions, previously set at £6.67 for undergraduates and £3.30 for graduate students, and has moved towards a college levy system. This means that colleges with JCRs disaffiliated from CUSU, notably Gonville & Caius and Corpus Christi, will not be able to avoid financial contributions to CUSU.

On the subject of levies, Aspinall said that “2017-18 was our last year under CUSU’s university grant allocation and now we have moved to a levies funding model we expect our financial performance to continue to improve with near enough break even expected for 2018-19 and 2019-20.”

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