& opinion

I wanted to take this opportunity to give the USSU members a quick run-down as to what exactly has been going on with regards to the budget and the £41k black hole that is the deficit.

Firstly, however, I’d like to say that was very pleased to hear the VC stating that a war against Iraq by the imperialist powers of Britain and the US would be a disaster, and of course the USSU is in complete agreement, according to the unanimous support for the anti-imperialist campaign at this year’s AGM. I take it then that he is also in favour of supporting the mass walk-out organised by students and staff alike at 3.30pm the day attacks are announced, and expect to see him with us demonstrating in Churchill Square, getting stick from the police. also noticed and welcome his recognition that "the Union does a good job, though its circumstances are not always easy".

You can say that again, Mr Smith. On reading last week’s article, I and the sabbatical team were taken by great surprise to see that the VC is still adamant about his position concerning the USSU reserves. He states "it is reasonable to expect there should be a contribution from the Student’s Union reserves." Our response is simple. Considering that at this year’s USSU AGM over 650 members voted in unanimous support for a resolution that stated the Union reserves should not be touched, is the VC therefore saying that his opinion is stronger than that of the 12,000 students that the AGM represents?

In addition, not only does it mean that his financial recommendation is one which contradicts the University’s own registrar, Neil Gershon, who stated in the badger before Christmas "David is right to be cautious in using the funds, I’d be the same in his position," but that he also expects the Union to continually foot the bill for the perpetual under-funding of the University of Sussex Students’ Union. On evaluating the experiences of the sabbatical team over in Sussex House, it seems that Neil Gershon is not the only individual who believes more adequate funding to the Union is necessary.

An additional argument continually used by the Vice Chancellor is one concerning the position of the private company set up to provide the USSU with additional funding. He says that "the main reason the Students’ Union budget is in difficulty at the moment is because some of the commercial ventures have turned out to be more difficult to manage than had been anticipated." Surely it cannot be a question of the commercial ventures being "difficult to manage," as SUSUS Ltd.’ annual turnover has in fact gone up year on year since 1997, inclusive of the takeover of Falmer Bar. It is true, however, that the commercial outlets are not as financially profitable as they should be. It is also true that for years the University has insisted that our private, unconsolidated company has a University representative on the board of directors. Not only does this pose a serious conflict of interest for this representative, but the reasons the commercial ventures are not as financially successful as anticipated are twofold.

Firstly, the initial accounting projections made by the University representative board member that were actually approved by the University Chairman’s Committee were in fact wholly unrealistic. On top of this, Falmer Bar expenditure (extortionate rent paid to the university, maintenance charges paid to the university etc.) is crippling its profit margins. In recent meeting with senior management group Neil Gershon stated that more should be done to make the SUSUS Ltd. managerial accounts more efficient. The SUSUS Ltd board welcomes Mr Gershon’s comments, and has indeed taken steps to improve its accounting record. We are currently looking for an alternative accountant to sit on SUSUS ltd board, one with no conflict of interest and considerable experience in commercial accounting procedures.

I have been instructed by the Sabbatical team, the USSU executive committee and the 12,000 members, to be responsible for portraying their feelings and expectations regarding our finances. I feel it my duty to express our serious concern for the Vice Chancellor’s continual misunderstanding of these issues. However, with support from informed members of the senior management group at Sussex House, we may yet get the message across. We are not asking for money for money’s sake, we do have skeletal budget and our company cannot afford to maintain it. I will finally take this opportunity to assure all members of the USSU that we will not buckle under this corporate pressure. We must stayed united to fight it. But there will come a point towards the end of term, probably week 8 according to our accounts, when the Union will have to down tools. We are still in a position where our annual budget shows a £41k deficit.

We continue to demand that the University meets this shortfall, and have put all the procedures in place for a full shut down of Union services as soon as our money runs out. The Union will subsequently produce national press release with a message to all prospective students considering coming to Sussex University, we will take a motion to NUS national conference; the national press will know that the USSU is fighting for survival.