CUSU has received a bailout from the universityGeorge Rex

Cambridge University Students’ Union has been forced to seek a bailout from the university in June 2015 in order to plug a funding black hole, a document released in September reveals.

A lack of funds left CUSU unable to fulfil its commitments to students without accepting “emergency funding” under “exceptional” circumstances from the university. The minutes of a meeting of the Council Committee for the Supervision of the Student Unions, held on 11th May, reveal the full extent of the discrepancy between the forecasted finances and the true state of CUSU’s accounts.

The document quotes CUSU as having requested over £100,000 from the university in emergency funding and “to replace... lost income”.

The Council Committee, which includes King’s First Bursar Dr Keith Carne and Emmanuel Reverend Dr Jeremy Caddick, noted that it would be “difficult” for the Committee to have confidence in future CUSU budgets.

Despite not achieving its 2014/15 income targets, CUSU has still forecast what the Committee calls “ambitious” income targets in its budget for the next academic year, and has refused to apologise for putting services at risk after “commercial services and fundraising… underperformed”.

In the meeting in May, CUSU General Manager Mark McCormack, who as The Tab reported controversially enjoyed an 18 per cent pay rise of £6,500 in 2013, stated that CUSU expected a loss of £67,000 by the end of the 2014/15 financial year.

The failure of the Guide to Excellence to generate the extra expected £40,945 made what the Committee called a “significant hole” in CUSU finances, the document reveals.

The minutes state that “[t]he income from external publications contracts provided a core part of the funding on which CUSU relied to support its services for students”. The minutes also state that CUSU “failed to achieve its targets for [commercial] income in 2014-15”.

If the university had not intervened, CUSU may have had to compromise the services it provides, including the second Student Advice Service officer who CUSU has been paying from its own funds, in order to “reduce its expenditure and protect its position in the first half of the year”.

The Committee, reflecting on the £40,945 rescue package CUSU had received from the university to keep services afloat, was keen to emphasise that they would not subsidise the failure of future CUSU commercial projects.

The minutes noted that its “support for this request should be regarded as exceptional” and that it “would not expect to support any application for emergency funding in the event that CUSU’s commercial ventures failed to achieve the anticipated levels of income”.

In response, CUSU President Priscilla Mensah told Varsity that CUSU had just “finished its fourth year in surplus”, with money which went into CUSU reserves providing a “pre-emptive financial buffer”. This is corroborated by the publicly available CUSU accounts submitted to the Charity Commission, the last of which, dated 30th June 2014, shows reserves rising from £350,194 in 2013 to £376,832 in 2014.

However, despite these surpluses, the minutes of the Council Committee meeting also reported that CUSU, when asked if they had considered a loan, claimed that they had, but “further thought would need to be given to whether it would be possible to repay it”.

The Committee was also highly sceptical of CUSU’s “ambitious” plans for 2015/16, given that it had projected an income for this academic year greater than the missed targets for 2014/15. This led the Committee to express doubts about whether CUSU could achieve its expected income. If it did not, the Committee stated that it would be “difficult” to have confidence in future CUSU budgets.

It also questioned whether the CUSU Board of Trustees, part of the charity’s administrative apparatus, “could be confident of CUSU achieving the forecast surplus” for the next year.

A university spokesperson did not respond to Varsity’s request for assurances that the university would not provide future bailouts for CUSU, stating only that “[t]he university is assisting Cambridge University Students’ Union in considering its financial situation.” Mensah denied that any “financial mismanagement” had taken place and declined to issue an apology on behalf of CUSU for the situation because CUSU had continued to “contribut[e] to its reserves”.

Despite the minutes referring to CUSU having “failed to achieve its targets for [commercial] income in 2014-15”, she insisted that “[t]he minutes do not say that the publication [the Guide to Excellence] failed”.

Though the termination of the Guide to Excellence contract produced a “significant hole in the CUSU finances”, Mensah stated that “an opportune moment was presented to discontinue links to the Guide to Excellence”.

The Guide was discontinued because the publication was not seen as “in line with CUSU’s widening participation efforts”, according to Mensah.

Although the draft 2015/16 budget states that 2014/15 was a “mixed year” for CUSU, Mensah believes that no damage had been done to CUSU’s “financial reputation”, stating that “CUSU is audited by a reputable auditor from which it receives positive reports”.

However, the minutes of the meeting reported that CUSU had received an unspecified number of complaints relating to the publication.

In addition, the bid of £60,000 to “replace income from the contract for the publication of the Guide to Excellence” had been made conditional on the contract for that publication being wound up, in recognition of “the risk to the reputation of the university”.

At the same time, the minutes of the meeting reveal administrative difficulties at the Graduate Union, which operates a shop in addition to organising events.

The Committee noted that in the GU’s draft budget presented to the meeting, expenditure was listed for events without corresponding income.

Furthermore, the figure listed in the budget as being their “shop income” was in fact their gross margin, after taking account of shop expenditure.

This means that the GU mistook gross margin – which represents sales minus the costs of goods sold, divided by sales – for the gross income, which is the total income from the shop.

Khaldoon Bushnaq, Treasurer of the Graduate Union, is yet to respond for Varsity’s request for comment. The meeting also included discussion of the GU’s strategic plan for the future and its re-registration as a charity with the Charity Commission.

The document reveals how the GU and CUSU intended to continue their collaboration, but that CUSU’s announcement of a merger with the GU had been made “without formal discussion” with the latter.

An earlier version of this article contained the statement "McCormack has yet to reply to Varsity’s request for comment." However, employed full-time members of staff are contractually prevented from issuing statements on the organisation's behalf, and as such are barred from responding to such requests.

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