The secret to Sussex’s success

Warwick Students’ Union has found itself in dire financial trouble with a deficit of over half a million pounds. The University of Sussex Students’ Union (USSU) has been in a similar situation over the past few years, but has taken large measures to cut their deficit in the past year. Whilst their union is financially smaller than Warwick, with a turnover of only £750,000 compared to around £5.5m at Warwick, the tasks facing our union are comparable to those at Sussex.

The good news is that our deficit as a percentage of turnover is only 10 percent, smaller than the 15 percent at Sussex. The bad news however, is that the lessons we can learn from Sussex, to point the Union back to black, are rare.

One of the major causes of the demise of USSU was an incompetent finance officer. The union had to hire an external company to sort out the union’s accounts which cost tens of thousands of pounds. Barring this, if names were omitted from a report outlining the causes of the USSU downfall, at times you could easily be fooled into thinking that this was Warwick. The national decline in the pub and bar industry were partially to blame, but the unpopularity of the campus nightclub was a key factor, as it drove many students off-campus when looking for their evenings’ entertainment (TES anyone?).

{{ quote Cutting funding for sports clubs and societies was a key way in which the USSU reduced their deficit }}

Cutting funding for sports clubs and societies was a key way in which the USSU reduced their deficit. They have managed to secure sponsors for club kit, which the union used to pay for, and clubs are encouraged to find their own way of travelling to games instead of hiring coaches. With the majority of kit at Warwick paid for by students, and small reductions made through sponsorship, this is not an avenue for cutting spending.

USSU has also taken the step of moving large events such as the Sports Ball into the largest on-campus venue. With this year’s Sports Ball at Warwick taking place at the Hilton in Birmingham, it looks as though Warwick, whilst no doubt providing a much better venue at a smaller price, has missed a trick in raising revenues through drink sales by holding it on campus.

In the same vein Sussex has also attempted to encourage as many sports teams as possible to circle in the Union to raise drinks revenue. With the recent union rebuild, Warwick seems to have made a mistake here too, with a number of the largest sports clubs choosing to circle in bars in Leamington before Pop due to limited capacity in the Copper Rooms. This costs the union a large amount of money each week.

Profitability of Union restaurants has been increased at Sussex through the abolition of meal deals and more widespread advertising. Whilst the former is unlikely to have much of an impact at Warwick, where food prices are already relatively expensive, there could be a case for increasing the advertising for some of the union’s restaurants.

As a result of these measures, USSU, who had budgeted for a £130,000 deficit this year has managed to significantly reduce this figure to nearly £20,000. Looking through the ways Sussex has cut back on spending and raised revenues is worrying if we hope to learn lessons from them.

### Next issue

Is the union verging on bankruptcy? ‘Not at all,’ according to current finance officer Andy Perkins, one of the people Money will be interviewing in the coming weeks as part of the Boar’s investigation into the Union’s finances.

When Perkins took up his post the Student Union was already in deficit by £299,471 with positive reserves of £79,000. The latest figure for the 2008–2009 deficit is £583,976 with negative reserves of £504,451 – but sources suggest that the recent successes of particularly food and beverage outlets has led the necessary half-a-million pound surplus necessary to cancel this.

The question remains on how much outstanding debts will be financed by spending cuts? Despite some staff redundancies already being announced, the Union has been tight-lipped about where precisely the axe will have to fall.

In light of these circumstances, many of the incoming finance officer’s manifesto commitments may have to be put on hold. In the next issue, we will be talking to Stu Stanley to learn what he proposes to do to secure the Union’s long-term future.

_Correction: this article originally claimed that Rootes restaurant was operated by the Union and that it funded transport to and from sporting events. This is not the case, and_ The Boar _would like to offer a full apology for any confusion caused._


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.