Monday, 12 May 2008

The HUU Governance Review

This year, after a referendum at HUU, a review of the current governance structures has been initiated. It's the second one in three years and it attempts to correct any flaws in the existing setup that was created to make the union more compliant with charity laws. At the time of typing, the green paper has been available for a few days and this post serves as a critical analysis of it.

Membership of the UEC
Currently, there are 10 members of the Union Executive Committee (7 full-time, three part-time). The part-time officers (UEOs) were a recent addition in the previous governance review. See the bottom of this page for more information. In the green paper, the following is proposed:
  • President
  • VP Community
  • VP Education
  • VP Sport
  • VP Welfare
  • Chair Scarborough Executive Committee (part-time)
There would also be the non-exec positions of Campaigns & Democracy Officer, Chair ISA, Media Officer and Societies Officer. A clear benefit of this will be the fact that meetings will be quicker. However, I think there are some problems with it.

You will notice that there is no Treasurer position on the committee, something which has been present in various forms over a number of years. The green paper states that the responsibility will be given to an external trustee. According to a source in the union, the reasons for this are:
"The charity is too complicated for anyone but an expert to understand the complicated finances"
Another reason was that it's often the case that the UST doesn't have a finance-related degree, so if the Finance Manager isn't doing his job properly, he may not notice.

During the training period for new sabbaticals, all members of the exec are given budget/finance training and there is also a presentation from Cazenove, which is the investment group HUU work with. In the handover time the present UST gives the successor information and advice about this area. The General Manager also gives comprehensive information and resources relating to charities. All that, as well as the self-learning you're expected to do, should mean that the UST would be prepared to do the job. Providing that the UST is doing their job properly, they should also be able to notice if the Finance Manager is not doing their job properly. If there is some uncertainty, you could always talk to the GM about it.

If the responsibility is given to an external trustee, it means there isn't anyone with that responsibility on the exec to give relevant reports. The external trustees aren't there all the time, so how can they do the job that the UST currently has?

I can understand why Campaigns and Democracy is a part-time position in this proposed structure. The UST used to have responsibility for societies, but that's under the remit of VP Media & Volunteering at the moment. The new proposals also take away the treasurer responsibilities, so they obviously feel there's not enough left to justify a full-time position. However, it would mean there is no-one on the executive who is responsible for ensuring there's a democratic union. There's many elections to co-ordinate and the perennial task of battling against the dreaded student apathy. Whether this is a full-time position or not, I think it deserves a position on the exec.

I can forsee the decisions about Scarborough causing big problems. I'm not sure how many people would like the fact that the Scarborough exec chair would lose VP status and not be full-time. To some people, 'Chair' doesn't sound as important as 'Vice-President'. Scarborough is a big responsibility and previous VPs of that campus have shown that they have a large amount of work to do. Could a part-timer cope with that whilst doing their degree?

This could be an attempt to strengthen the Two campuses, one union image though. If the rest of the exec spend more time at the Scarborough campus, the workload could be shared. However, there is also the issues affecting the Hull campus and the union as a whole to take care of - would this be too much for the other positions?

The green paper states that the VP (Academic Representation) would be called VP Education. I think this is a good decision because many other unions across the country (for example, Surrey SU and Loughborough SU). Apart from this and the inclusion of the zones, there doesn't seem to be a great deal of changes.

The exec might want to look at the committee lists to see if they're accurate. For example, I notice they made some valid changes to the VP Education committee list (which I recognise from Standing Order 3.001 that I rewrote), but there are still some inaccuracies (Graduate Research Committee is now called the Research Degrees Committee and there is no inclusion of the Library User Group, Free Electives Panel or Widening Participation Committee).

VP Community
The current role of Chair HUSSO is part-time, but the changes stated in this paper would mean that student community action would have a full-time officer again and more time can be given to making this valuable area of the union even better.

Meeting times
"The UEC shall meet in weeks 1, 4, 6, 8 and 10 of each semester. Meetings shall also occur outside of term-time as and when they are required"
This has the potential to be good for the increased number of part-time officers as it reduces their workload slightly. However, fewer meetings could mean that the executive is less responsive in certain situations. Remember, if there isn't enough to justify a meeting at some point, then it could always be cancelled.

This is a similar model to the one that the NUS use. I can see some students thinking that this is easier to find who is responsible for certain areas, but I see it as too many layers. You would have the zone committees who each decide on a policy that will be submitted to an Open Policy Forum. The OPFs decide which policy ideas go to a referendum (this is noted at Union Council). Too many layers means too much bureaucracy and additional paperwork.

The point about only one policy from each zone going to an OPF is a serious one. What if there is more than one vitally important policy that needs to be pushed through? It means one would have to be either abandoned or delayed until the next Zone committee. This could cause severe delays in the improvement of the union.

Open Policy Forums
The following is from the green paper:
"The OPF to Referenda process will run independently of the governance structures of HUU..."
This is total nonsense. Governance policy can pass through that process. It's part of the union's democratic processes, so how is it independent?
This is from an entry on the CommonSenseAlliance blog:
"This year, Open Policy Forums were introduced - and haven't been the biggest hit in the Union... It is all down to the shortcomings of the Constitution - it only had about three lines about OPF's - so really, the UEC have done a good job with it. But this review cements it into the constitution."
It's not all down to the constitution. Yes, it might have helped if there was more detail about them (maybe even a standing order), but in this situation it's up to the UEC to sort out suitable times and publicise them appropriately. Using and Facebook isn't necessarily enough because not everyone is a member of the relevant groups and not everyone visits regularly. I saw no posters in the union stating that these were taking place.

Referenda and voting
This is from the green paper:
"All members of UEC except the Chair are entitled to vote at UEC. All votes of UEC shall be recorded and displayed in the minutes to allow UEC to be held to account by council. In the event of a tied vote the Chair of UEC shall have a casting vote. In this instance the casting vote must be justified for the minutes."
Does this mean the number who voted for and against, or the specific names? It doesn't specify if it's 'secret ballot' and that needs to be clear (as is the case in other parts of the paper, e.g. the part about the election of zone chairs).

Proportional representation is something which is mentioned repeatedly, but there is no mention of the specific version (if I remember correctly, it's Alternative Vote, the single seat election mechanism approved by the Electoral Reform Society). The paper also doesn't mention the method of election for the multiple-seat Union Council. Just saying 'proportional representation' is far too generic because it allows people to constantly change the election method and there would be no consistency.

Other points
On page 13 of the green paper, it states that the UEC is "elected once annually", but what about the part-time officers? Does this mean that they can no-longer go for a full-time position and therefore a second year?

The paper doesn't mention the AGM anywhere, which is one of the most important events in the union calendar. The publicity arrangements for this year's AGM were heavily criticised - so much more planning is needed.

There is also no explicit mention of the fact that the trustee board can reject policy approved by the students.

This is from the CommonSenseAlliance blog entry that was mentioned earlier:
"This year we've moved to change the standing orders so that only 10% of the students have to vote to change."
I understand the reason for this. Votes in the past haven't had the required numbers to be legitimate. Going down to 10% means that more referendum results will become union policy. However, 10% isn't really representative of the whole student union membership. It needs to be a higher percentage (e.g. 20%).

I feel this is too soon after the last governance review. There hasn't been enough time to fix the initial teething problems that you get with anything new. Some of the problems could be fixed by altering timings and publicity, without the need to alter the constitution. What would other people think of us if our governance is in a constant state of flux? I'm not against regular reviews - I just don't think they should be as regular as this.

Summary and Conclusion
This green paper definitely has some good points in it. I think the people who have contributed to this have put a lot of effort in and genuinely want to make the union better. However, I believe it needs significant changes before it goes to a vote as a white paper.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: HUU, Student Unions, Politics, Governance

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

The '08 primaries - not many left

On May 6th we had the primaries for Indiana and North Carolina. These states were incredibly important for Hillary as it was a chance to build up more late momentum (after her win in Pennsylvania). For Barack Obama, they were a chance to get an even bigger lead in the delegate count prior to the Democratic National Convention in June. As for John McCain, he was able to do more profiling and preparation for the general election portion of the election season.

Here are the Democrat results for the primaries that took place on May 6th:

North Carolina
Candidate Vote %age Delegates
Barack Obama 56 58
Hillary Clinton 42 42
Candidate Vote %ageDelegates
Hillary Clinton 51 37
Barack Obama 49 33
If you just look at who won, you would think it's 1-1. However, it's a bit more complicated than that. Obama won North Carolina by a significant margin (in terms of votes and delegates) and only narrowly missed out on a win in Indiana (2% behind Clinton in votes and a difference of four between the two delegate counts). In reality, this was a good night for Obama because he takes 91 delegates and Clinton only takes 79.

Naturally, Hillary tried to put a positive spin on the results by saying:
"Not too long ago, my opponent made a prediction. He said I would probably win Pennsylvania, he would win North Carolina, and Indiana would be the tiebreaker.

Well, tonight we've come from behind, we've broken the tie, and, thanks to you, it's full speed onto the White House."
This is a clever thing to say because the voters who aren't necessarily interested in the finer details may think she's still got a really strong chance of winning and then go and vote for her. The truth is that she has a chance, but it's far from strong.

This is what Obama had to say:
"You know, there are those who were saying that North Carolina would be a game changer in this election. But today what North Carolina decided is that the only game that needs changing is the one in Washington, D.C.

I want to start by congratulating Senator Clinton on what appears to be her victory in the great state of Indiana."
This was also a clever things to say. He is getting the people of North Carolina on his side and also pandering to the Hillary Clinton supporters. This will become increasingly important if he wins the nomination because he'll need all the votes he can get when he goes against McCain, who's had solid GOP backing for a while.

So, how can Hillary win? Well, according to the CNN Election Center, Obama has 1,836 delegates and superdelegates. Clinton has 1,681 (which means there is a difference of 155). In the remaining primaries, there are 217 delegates available. This is one of the reasons why I said Clinton didn't have a strong chance earlier. She would have to win nearly all the remaining primaries by significant margins.

Of course, it would be easier for her if some of the undecided superdelegates pledged their allegiance to her (270 available), but they might just go with the popular vote if they haven't made their minds up yet.

Michael Tomasky has an interesting point in this article. Even though he believes Obama has the advantage, he thinks that Obama has had multiple opportunities to "close the deal" and hasn't done that so far. He wonders if that is an indicator of what may happen.

Obama, like any candidate, can theoretically have a runaway victory providing there's enough positive publicity and decent early results. Obama certainly had that (e.g. Iowa). However, John McCain has proved that you can come from behind and finish strongly. Tomasky cites New Hampshire, California, Texas or Ohio and Pennsylvania as points where he could have won. I agree with Pennsylvania because of the significant number of delegates, but the others aren't good choices as they are too early on in the process (especially new Hampshire - that was the second primary/caucus).

This article states that some of Clinton's aides are now saying it's nearly impossible. That is something very important. If the people in your campaign team are losing faith in your chances, what hope do you have?

It gets even worse for Clinton because Obama seems to have survived the problematic issue of Jeremiah Wright - his former pastor. That could have (quite easily) turned into a public relations nightmare, but it hasn't.

So, what do you think?

Technorati tags: USA, Elections, Politics, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton,