SU turnover:£7million a year

I bet that if I told you that Warwick Students’ Union’s (SU) annual turnover is seven million pounds, you would be surprised. To put this in another perspective, for that amount of money you can buy Beyoncé Knowles’ Houston home of 8, 885 square feet just under seven times. Alternatively, you can buy 17, 543 iPad 2s (which is more than enough for one for every full-time undergraduate student), or simply 3,589,743 and a half large lattes (or cappuccinos if you prefer) from Curiositea. However, this is turnover, and definitely not profit, so don’t expect your free iPad anytime soon.

With this amount of money cascading through the Union, it’s a surprise that very few students take an interest in where it comes from, or more importantly where it’s going. Luckily George Whitworth, your friendly SU Union Development Officer and ex-Warwick student, has made an user-friendly chart of all things budgeted in the SU.

Despite this, there are still a phenomenal number of students who “often don’t realise how serious an organisation the SU is and the scope it has,” according to Mr. Whitworth. It’s stated on the graphic that all students automatically become members upon enrolment, but beyond that most people’s interests peter out after how much a pint is at the Copper Rooms.

Mostly the problem is not so much student apathy, but more the lack of interest the SU draws to exactly how money is being used. It is also a challenge to do so in a way that doesn’t involve gratuitous line graphs and tables full of statistics. Luckily that’s being changed. Hopefully a quick flick through Whitworth’s diagram will give a better idea of what on earth is going on, and bring your attention to some things that may not have even crossed your mind while eating those cheesy chips at the Dirty Duck.

So let’s keep it simple: part of the point of the presentation is to keep things accessible (further financial break-downs are also available on the SU website). Whitworth adds that “a lot of the information on them could be misunderstood if not accompanied by an appropriate level of explanation”. So first we see that the Unions income was £27,577,486 over the last four years. Over half of that, 58.4 per cent, comes from what you spend in the SU outlets. Therefore, whenever you buy from anywhere affiliated with the Union in the SU buildings, you’re helping to put just under 3.5 million pounds into the Students’ Union per year. 26.6 per cent of the rest of the money comes from a grant from the University itself, which the Sabbatical officers have to bid for (the Students’ Union is actually independent from the University, that is, if you don’t count the £1.8 million grant they receive every year).

The Students’ Union is a charitable organisation, which means that they are not-for-profit. 1.1 per cent of what profits are actually made are kept aside for ‘surplus,’ according to the graphic. The Union has a very tricky task: like any commercial organisation that wishes to be sustainable you have to at least break even (that is, make as much money as you spend), if not make a profit in order to remain functional. We mustn’t forget, of course, that this requirement to function is in the best interests of the students, otherwise we would not have an SU.
Although for all its value for money, the actual commercial costs (i.e serving and baking your baguettes at the Bread Oven and the like) are only 37.4 per cent of their spending, compared to the 58.4 per cent of their yearly profits it makes up. They have a tidy profit margin on this at least. This is actually reasonable enough when you take into account that the SU spend 14.3 per cent on membership services, where they only make just over 6 per cent. So they spend over double what they make on welfare, advice services, democracy, club nights, and society funding combined, and thus one subsidises the other.

Obviously it is more complicated than it may initially appear, as paying more for a coffee on campus allows the SU to provide other services (you may be interested to know that the income that the SU receives for Warwick Sport and the Societies Federation combined is only 6.5 per cent of their income: the same amount that they receive from subsidiary companies). However, there is very little competition on campus for food, drinks and entertainment. We all hear over and over the complaints about the quality verses pricing, notoriously in Costcutter (unfortunately although sitting snugly next to the SUHQ, our local convenience store is not affiliated with the SU). Unsurprisingly, Whitworth, as an ex-student and one who spends a lot of his time working on and around campus, is on our side with this one: “I think it definitely is valid when you look at the University-owned outlets such as Library café which provide a pretty weak service, fairly high price and for fairly low quality food… there is actually quite a lot of competition for your more typical ‘bar’ with the Union-run Duck and Terrace Bar; the University outlets such as Rootes Bar, and local businesses such as the Varsity pub, and I think this does help in offering students value for money.”

Luckily your gripes don’t go unnoticed: “Sabbatical Officers for many years have lobbied the University to improve their provision in this area. Hopefully with the recent employment of a new registrar we may finally see some improvement,” but Whitworth does add that his “personal opinion is that if there’s one thing people (not just students) like to complain about, it’s how much things cost… I really think we could be selling items for less than they cost us to buy and produce, and some people would still complain about pricing!”

Whitworth reiterated that “simply put, we don’t need to maximise revenue, and we exist solely to give students here the best experience they can get.” He continued: “The drive to generate [profit] doesn’t inflate the prices in the same way that a private provider would… we are constantly garnering information from the students… and we are seeing satisfaction from the membership.”

If you don’t feel that this is the case and your voice is not heard, then let them know! These are your Sabbatical Officers and your Union, so make sure you let them know exactly how they’re getting on; if you don’t tell them, then they won’t know. They are more than willing to listen, too: “Annually [the SU] do the big five survey… a major part of which is to assess customer satisfaction in our products, staff and services.” As the graph indicates, the SU spends just over £22,000 a year per Sabbatical Officer, so you may as well make the most of them.


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