The Union has fallen behind maintaining up to date policies responsible for managing a range of issues, from Equality of Opportunities to Club Society and Project (CSP) Equipment.
A felix investigation found that according to the Union website, out of the Union’s 70 policies, 36 are currently marked as expired. Though some of the expired policies have become redundant, such as CSP Budgeting Policy 15-16 which has been replaced with Budgeting Policy 2016/17, others remain essential for managing the Union’s operations, such as the Tours Policy, which describes how tours are defined and should be taken into consideration when budgets are allocated towards them.
Others protect the Union from legal risk, such as the also lapsed Freedom of Speech and Events Approval Policy which is meant to be adhered to by all students organising events on and off campus. The policy ensures that checks are made on external speakers and that events comply to the Union’s Equality of Opportunities Policy (which has also expired), so as to minimise risks such as conducting unlawful political activity, breaching public benefit principles or even putting the safety of attendees at risk.
One Union source said “it defines our interactions with external speakers. We have to have one as part of Prevent and puts us at terrible risk.”
Although we were informed by Union President, Nas Andriopoulos, that this particular policy should actually still be in accordance with the bye-laws and constitution which say policy exists for three years since ratification, and as it was passed in June 2015, it should be live until June 2018. “I do believe the webpage showing the lapsed date of July 2016 is erroneous.” At the same time it is stated in the policy that the policy needs to be reviewed annually (to ensure that it’s uptodate with Prevent updates presumably). Confused? So are we.
Furthermore, some policies seem to have been renewed by the Board of Trustees but have not been updated on the Union’s website, such as the Associate Membership Policy, which allows our exchange students to join clubs and participate in Union events and activities.
This remains an assumption though as the only way to find out is by looking through the Board of Trustees minutes (warning: they are not particularly detailed), which state the Associate Membership Policy as an item discussed, but don’t make clear whether the policy was passed or whether it’s still in review (though after pestering the Union President we were informed that it was passed).
Others still may have been passed at Council. It is typical for Union policies to be reviewed en mass at the end of the year, felix was told by a Union official. A look at the last Council meeting for the year 2015/16 for example, shows that eight policies were discussed. These include the Unpaid Internships Policy, which condemns the exploitation of students by companies which have the means to pay for labour, the Tankards Policy, which outlines the management of one of Europe’s largest tankard collections (hosted in the Union Bar) including new tankard specs, and the Environmental Policy which presents guidelines on waste reduction, water use, carbon emissions, energy and transport.
Again it is unclear whether these policies were passed or amended in any way as the minutes currently available aren’t particularly detailed or helpful.
At the same time there doesn’t seem to be a trace of the review progress of other policies. Including the Transport Policy and the Drinks Service Policy. Have these policies expired and if so what does that mean?
We asked Stephen Ball, a veteran Council member, now alumnus and honorary life member of the Union who said that “it is perfectly reasonable to assert that “lapse” (as used in Bye Law C) means that the policy no longer has any standing and thus there is no need to even entertain any reference to the lapsed policy. Thus there is space for individuals to make executive decisions.”
But the real issue is the lack of transparency and even knowledge as to the Union’s resolutions. With the annual brain drain which follows the succession of sabbatical officers, it is easy to lose track of what needs doing within the organisation.
Sure, maybe the Transport Policy has expired and you can now use the Union minibuses for your IKEA trip, or maybe the Drinks Service Policy has lapsed and you’re now able to order triple shots, quadruple shots and really any multiple you desire and have anything you want mixed into anything else you want, including spirits into draughts (though there are undeniably many more serious side effects to the lack of an updated Drinks Service policy, and god knows the legal risk the Union is putting itself in).
But the fact that no one really knows is the real issue.
“This is a recurring problem” says Ball. “The issue is that when there is no official policy there is nothing to direct staff, sabbs or students in their decisions. This can allow individuals to make unilateral decisions without consultation or making inconsistent decisions without a good basis e.g. the order minibuses are rented out – which club gets priority. This opens the door to the possibility of challenges, of discrimination or bias. But it also puts sabbs, staff and student volunteers in challenging situations as they have to make judgement calls. “[This] is a longstanding issue and is reflective of the seeming lack of concern being given to the Union’s democratic structures as also reflected in the issues with minutes and papers being released.”
The current managing director Jarlath O’Hara and the Union President have made promises to review the procedure at the end of the year.