Claire Gilbert

What even is Union Council?

Good question!

Union Council is the place to have your say about what SUSU does and how it does it. Council holds your elected officers to account for what they’re up to, and sets the direction for SUSU (through policy). It’s the highest decision-making body and decides what goes on in your Union. Council meets once a month during term time and decisions are made by 80 elected student Union Councillors.

It’s really easy to get involved and make the change you want to see in your halls, the University, SUSU or the local area.

Decisions at Council are made by Union Councillors, who are students elected by you every year, but you don’t have to be a Union Councillor to come along, or speak during the meeting.

Council met on Monday after questions to candidates for the position of VP Student Communities.

As well as appointing the winners of the Volunteer Awards as Honorary Life Members and appointing an external trustee for another two years, council awarded Jaki Booth, ex Chief Exec as an Honorary Vice – President to reflect the dedication and hard work to the organisation.

snookerOne of the hottest items for discussion was around the financial matters regarding developments for the building. The plans for the staff working space and redevelopments for bar 3 passed (and you can see the design plans here) however council voted against approving the spend for developing the snooker room into storage.

It was a long discussion balancing up the pros of space and the negatives of the impact on the snooker club that has meant this is one of the first times council have voted against a trustee board decision.

There had also been an emergency motion brought by the snooker club to say that the snooker room should be protected in the long term, however this was defeated.

Other policies that were presented included Sport for All and an Improved Leadership and Representation Policy which now means that Union Council elections are accessible for all members, including non cis gender students.

Officers were then given a chance to make their last council speech of the year (and for many of us the last time we would speak to council!) There were lots of thanks to student officers and recognition for the passion that has got the union to the place it is today.

We didn’t have chance in the meeting to answer questions to officers and so they are situated below. If you are interested in finding out more about council and want to watch the next one email vpdci@soton.ac.uk or democracy@susu.org!

sabb photo


Questions to Vice President Education

To Jade: The whole restructure is very much in the idea stage, I’m hoping to write a draft paper for the end of the month and hoping Sophia will take that forward and go through consultation stages at the beginning of the process I invited every FO and AP to come to an event where they wrote down what they see their roles, rewards and responsibilities as being, and what they thought they should be we compiled all that and I’ve used that to come up with some ideas as to how I’d like to see the system rejigged but it’s very much ideas still. When it’s more concrete it’s going to go into a paper and then I’m going to encourage Sophia to take that to the 2 day training we have with FOs in September and will go from there to hopefully clear through UC & Senate in December.

To Gabriela: If you take a look at the full sabb plan (the version on the reports is a cut version because our full plans are larger documents with budget lines and explanations etc) the 24 hour library actually says that the specific aim is to have a trial for a 24 hour library, now I’ve not only secured that but also funding for the library to do it for the next 2 years also, and it’s looking likely that it will become a permanent fixture, if just during the exam season.

Regarding the big question, I appreciate this one hasn’t been as well publicised and because of that  I’m hoping that next year we’ll be able to actually also get them pushed by marketing, not just the reps however it has been up and running since a few weeks after the beginning of the semester. The URL is tinyurl.com/bigquestion2


Questions to Vice President Democracy and Creative Industries

10. Should minutes be more important to this Students’ Union                                                

While we have a policy in place for Zone Committees, there are no formal rules regarding the publication of Union Council or AGM minutes. As such, these typically take longer than three weeks to be put onto susu.org.

Do you think it is appropriate to delay these minutes, or should these be released within three weeks as well, in keeping with SUSU’s spirit of transparency?

I believe that these minutes don’t come out as quickly, but I wouldn’t call this ‘delaying’ minutes. Union Council is a 3 hour meeting, with various points to discuss, including high levels of discussion (i.e policy debates). These meetings are therefore generally longer that most Zone Committees and include more agenda points. In addition, procedural motions can also be called. Although in the meeting this is normally quite a short process, it adds extensively to the time needed to create minutes. Furthermore, the AGM is also an event that only happens once a year and is focussed almost entirely on policy debate.

These particular minutes are also produced solely by the Democracy team and there are also various other tasks and actions that need to be completed. The writing of the AGM minutes has coincided with the by-election for instance, which was never forecast.

I don’t believe a slightly longer period for these unique meetings is a bad thing. It’s important to ensure we get things right and it doesn’t mean that we are lacking transparency. I think it just requires a bit of patience.

11. Are minutes important to this Students’ Union                                         

Minutes have been discussed at 5 out this year’s 6 Union Council sessions. Do you think this indicates a problem?

Democracy Zone, as a policy zone, is in place to ensure the other zones follow correct democratic procedure; do you think it would be appropriate for the VP DCI to take more of an active role in chasing up when these procedures are not followed, in regards to minutes publication?

I wouldn’t necessarily this constitutes a problem at all. In fact awareness of minutes means that the new system has clearly worked and is visible to more of our members. If anything we’ve taken more steps in the past 12 months that we have for many years to ensure that issues like our papers are more transparent and clear.  There are now very isolated examples of problems, and these have genuine reasons”

There is some confusion about the ‘draft’ status of minutes on the website. Technically minutes aren’t approved until they go to the next meeting. We could therefore take steps to release drafts but make it absolutely clear that they are so which would be an easy fix. In terms of taking an active role, I have indeed done so earlier this year, ensuring that people were aware of the requirements. As I mentioned at a previous council, it is down to Chairs ultimately to ensure that the relevant individuals are swiftly publishing their minutes, and it is not my responsibility to micromanage those operations. I am sure that by the end of the year, this culture of minutes will be embedded across all zones, sabbs and staff.

Staff are not just writing minutes and are helping achieve real change behind-the-scenes and support the work that Sabbaticals and students what to achieve, evidence of which can be seen in zone reports. We keep bureaucracy to a minimum to ensure that stuff gets done, and the minutes website takes substantially less time than the previous system.

Of course going into next year Democracy will still chase up those that are lost, and as a Union Councillor, we appreciate you taking an active role in ensuring we are even more perfect.

12. In the future, when we do nice things for Councillors and Student Trustees (like a free meal), could we think about what could be done to include the non-voting students who still regularly attend and contribute?

In the future, when we do nice things for Councillors and Student Trustees (like a free meal), could we think about what could be done to include the non-voting students who still regularly attend and contribute?

I’d say this would be nice but also a very subjective thing to try and achieve. There are many people who don’t attend meetings but still contribute, while the vice versa can also be said to be true! So defining this might be tricky. The key thing that we want to do is for those that have taken up a commitment and have responsibility in a defined role, is that we can also offer some privileges. This is a nice touch that hopefully shows that we always support our elected volunteers in the future, but I’m sure considerations could be made to support other members.


Questions to Union President

What progress has there been on providing more vegetarian options in The Bridge & Café, and when can we expect to see more options available on the menus at both?

The Bridge menu is reviewed bi-annually and the next menu, introduced mid way through the autumn term this year, will take into account the feedback from students on vegetarian options. We are also looking over the summer into the possibility of introducing an improved salad bar in the café. Union Council has also approved spend for a redevelopment to bar level 3, which gives us more opportunities to develop vegetarian food options.

Which individual receive free grad ball tickets, and why do they receive them? Is there any possibility of redistributing these to other students who might like them?

The people who receive free grad ball tickets are: Student leaders, the Union Council chair, Trustees, Sabbatical Officers (current, elect and from recent years), EVA Volunteer winners, core SUSU staff, some University colleagues and key suppliers for SUSU. We invite these people to a celebratory reception and the point of this is to thank some of the people who help make SUSU what it is. I personally think that it’s really important to thank people for all the hard work that they put into helping students – so I like the current system where the first hour of grad ball is a chance to bring all these people together and thank them… but a new year, brings new ideas – so I guess you could ask DMW.

Questions about the following of the disciplinary procedure with regards to Appeals. 

Since Union Council, I’ve chatted with the submitter of the question. My view is that the current rules on holding appeals are unnecessarily distinct from that of a disciplinary commitee, which is why we interpreted the procedure as being different. It is my recommendation going forward that 1) we should have the quorum of an appeals committee be 5 (with 5-10 students drawn to sit on it, 2) for there to be a note in the rules that gives a sensible recommendation to consider the diversity of the panel, 3) for the rules to recognise the role of the disciplinary committee chair in defending the original decision of that committee to the appeals panel.

Question about culture with SUSU surrounding Oli Coles not taking up his second term. 

Oli and I have chatted about this question, and we felt that since I’ve already made a clear statement about this matter through my blog on the subject, it would be best for Oli to answer this question himself, so he has added some words below.


Questions to Vice President Student Communities

There have been many rumours suggesting that undue pressure was placed on Oli Coles by [the President] to not take up his second term as VP Student Communities… Are you able to comment as to whether there is any factual basis to any of these rumours.

It was my decision, and mine alone, as to whether I stepped down or not. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Sabbatical Officer this year and proud of the work that I have achieved and I felt it was the right decision to make for me. I feel that it is right that SUSU has a VP Student Communities who is passionate about the role and has the drive to make great impact for students over the next year, and I look forward to see who will be elected into the position tomorrow!


Questions to VP Sports Development

The missing minutes for the Sports Development Zone are missing as it was a funding meeting and the staff member who took the notes has been off work for a prolonged period of time – once they return the minutes will be uploaded.

In regards to the sub-committees, I believe there have been some issues with the implementation of the new system. I will speak to the Chair of each committee and ask that they get their minutes online as the minutes have been taken (as I have had the hard copies myself).


Questions to VP Welfare

What progress has there been on providing more vegetarian options in The Bridge & Café, and when can we expect to see more options available on the menus at both?

I have spoken to the relevant SLT member about vegetarian options is SUSU outlets and will be continuing further discussions with the aim to get more vegetarian options onto the menu in the Bridge. Any suggestions anyone has for vegetarian meals, please email me at vpwelfare@susu.org and I can voice these at our next meeting!

The importance of minutes to this Students’ Union (1213P6) resolves that all committees “will take full minutes which will be uploaded to the minutes site within 3 weeks of the meeting”. Sustainability Zone is missing minutes for 2nd May. When will these be made available, and why has this lapse in transparency occurred?

The zone meeting wasn’t held on that date, it has now been held and minutes will be uploaded shortly

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