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


CommonSenseAlliance said...

David, you've gone completely off the mark a number of times here. Your arguments are all valid, but you've misinterpreted the green paper.

Firstly on the Treasurer issue. Jay has confessed this year that this part of is role takes up no more that 10% of his time, (about 4 hours per week maximum) and that a lot of this involves signing things off which are beyond the understanding of anyone without financial experience. There is NO need for a full time treasurer on the exec, as the other Sabbs will simply sign off the finances in their areas- which will bring the management and executive closer together without the need for a treasurer as intermediary. Commercial reports to UEC aren't given by the UST anyway, and detailed reports are available from the finance office in every area. The UST role in manifold, treasurer is a tiny part, and the majority of those four hours will be distributed between officers with the remainder of the role- scrutiny- falling to the external trustee.

Second- Democracy. There is no need to have a single person on UEC in charge of democracy, since every member of the UEC should be contributing. In addition, the President is directly linked to the Chair of C&D and will co-ordinate all officers in democratic areas.

Third- Scarborough. The arguments for this issue were covered extensively at council, and it is still agreed that the full-time position just encourages UEC to 'leave it to VP Scarborough' rather than doing their job. If the new Chair Scarborough has to do a 'huge amount of work' it is the failing of the UEC, and they should be removed from office by council for incompetence.

UEC- Doesn't meet every week anyway, doesn't NEED to meet every week. The vast majority of stuff discussed in UEC could wait a week. If not emergency meetings can be called.

OPFs- The current constitution simply dumps the idea and doesn't give any details, and there was effectively no money to promote them. The new structure WILL run independently of the Governance Structure- which is council/zones/uec/trustees in case you didn't realise. It will run parallel. It will have no input by any of those groups in any official capacity, except if council proposes motions, and then it will still remain separate. The limit was lowered to 10% because even SABB elections don't get 25% and they're the most hyped democratic event of the year- you need a practical approach to these things.

Referenda and Voting- All votes and the names of the voters will be recorded. This is so council can hold UEC members to account over how they've voted, and is exactly the same as in any other democratic body such as parliament. The voting system is explained on the BAM website, it's a form of AV as you suggest.

Part-time officers in the current Green Paper will be ineligible to re-stand for any part or full-time position. Currently, there is no restriction, and for example, as first year could be elected to be Chair ISA, then Chair HUSSO, then Chair HUSSO again or whatever before going on to a full-time position...a rather silly loop hole.

AGMs will be included in the final paper. This year's was crap, even though posters/website etc was carried out as required in the constitution. There was no money for further advertising left to the UEC.

Trustees CAN reject policy, but only on legal or financial grounds. For example if policy was to build a 40000 capacity stadium on the roof of the Union building. Also There will be 9 members of the Board, and 8 of them will have a vote (Chair only has casting vote). Of those 8 voting members 5 will be students, so there will be no worries of elected students being overruled.

The last constitution is full of holes, and just seemed to do what you said this review was for in your introduction:

"it attempts to correct any flaws in the existing setup that was created to make the union more compliant with charity laws."

This review is completely NOT for these reasons. The current constitution is compliant with charity laws, but that's about it! This review will bring our democratic structures in line with other unions and make us more of a students union and less of a business!


Sarah Francis said...

Scarborough: It was discussed at council, but at no point was it "agreed" that Scarborough shouldn't have a full time VP!

We in Scarborough are waiting till the 20th when we will be talking to Ed about it. If nothing changes we will take it to the students at Scarborough and see what they think.

elixa said...

The Scarborough issue is a balancing act. There is potentially an increase in Scarborough attendance at Council (which we'd like to point out, we've had our full if not over our quota of representatives at each council, despite the distance) which is almost over representative. It is hoped that these volunteers will be able to hold the zone chairs to account over Scarborough.

However, the key issue was the VP position. Currently the position does too much, the responsibilities are blurred, and the exec team on average do 20 hours a week volunteer time (1st semester statistics collected for MV). As it stands, converting the VP to part time now would be extremely damaging, considering the numbers in that job who have given up. Thankfully, this is a vision for a year or two at least, which I hope will be time to boomerang the responsibilities firmly back into the zones.

The Scarborough VP is more referred to by students here as "The Student Union President", which is a clear indication that despite the poster of all the sabbs being up right outside Calvino's, they still don't identify with them. Possibly not the case for all - but for a majority yes. Worse still - we are still getting questions of 'we have a student's union in Scarborough?'. The VP position ensures there is always a sabb in Scarborough, rather than an hour away on the end of a phone or an email, to liberate a George Foreman grill, or dress in a bunny suit.

Much as volunteers are a wonderful ethos for a charity, they are just volunteers. The current proposal is being viewed with scepticism because of the way the situation is now. We have discussed this at Scarborough UEC and will discuss again hopefully, able to analyse more what sort of challenges/issues are dealt with here, and where they would be dealt with within the proposal.

But indeed, the jury was still very firmly out on the Scarborough issue.

deadcentre said...

On OPFs, the contitution states this:

1. Open Forums will be held twice per semester when all full members of the Union will be allowed to attend an informal meeting at which the principal officers will update members on strategy and issues within the Union.
2. It will also provide an opportunity for any member to debate topics of interest and recommend new policy for Union Council to consider before approval by referendum.
3. Details of the conduct of meetings are detailed in the Bye-Laws.

I can attack this part of the constitution in plenty of ways:

Part 1. states that they, among other things, are "informal meeting[s] at which the principal officers will update members on strategy and issues within the Union." - this happens at Council anyway, so why repeat it twice?? The only difference is that Council is a formal environment.

Part 2. is what is followed now. With the shift of power away from Council, this obviously needed to addressed, and I suspect that this section was only added as a last minute fix - as no other rules and regulations, as you and I said, exist for it. It's are to work at something without guidence though, which is why I state that the current UEC have done a good job with it, they have made something from essentially, nothing. Granted, the OPF's haven't been promoted well, all the more reason to force promotion via Standing Orders.

Finally, find me a Bye-Law that refers to the OPFs. That part was certainly written without any foresight, and the bye-laws just don't seem to exist.

I can pick holes in the current rules and regulations just about everywhere, contradictions are afoot. As an example, until recently this year, standing order 2002 prohibited the use of referendums for OPF's - a contridiction with the Constitution. Yet another problem, though it was caught early in the year, was that the VP (M&V) was actually called the VP (Student Activities) even though the elections last year were for a VP (M&V) - which actually shows a great deal of negligence of those who reviewed the governence last time, as this should have been caught then - HUU was technically acting against the constitution by not having a VP (Student Activities)!!! I can pick plenty of other holes, but I don't have the time to.

I agree that the current green paper has problems with it. However, the case for change is strong. You say "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." - but this isn't new, it's changed. And, I'm sorry to say this, I think this constitution has failed, but if it is altered again, errors like those above will creep in again. It is better to make a clean break to avoid making these errors again.