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Union in crisis

The Union of UEA Students (UUEAS) is facing a deficit of a quarter of a million pounds for this financial year. Last year UUEAS experienced a deficit of £198,449, indicating a growing trend. Students’ Union Services (SUS), which operates under the parent body of UUEAS and provides student services on campus, endured a £74,496 loss last year. Publicly available documents reveal ever increasing losses for both SUS and UUEAS.

For the year ending 31 July 2011, the Union suffered a 7% fall in bar sales, which led to the overall contribution from the Union Bars falling from £563,267 in 09/10 to £459,483 in 10/11. The recent decline in LCR club night ticket sales has attributed to the overall drop in bar revenue, as fewer students are attending the Tuesday and Saturday club nights compared to the 09/10 period. Both of these have struggled to sell-out in recent months. The revenue generated from club nights fell to £32,881 for the 10/11 period, a drop of £50,000 compared to the previous year.

The Union has implemented a number of strategies in an attempt to reverse the drastic fall in bar and ticket sales. One change has been the extension of the LCR’s Saturday club nights until 3am.

However, facing fierce competition from bars and clubs in the city, and with the offering of increased variety and lower prices at these venues, the decline in sales looks set to continue.

It is not all doom and gloom, however, as the recently reorganised Travel Shop brought in a small profit of £5,552. The revenue generated from the Union Food Outlet (UFO) has also increased steadily in recent years. The Union has began a process of commercial diversification, looking to expand its activities into new markets. This includes the proposed establishment of a Union Lettings Agency, to challenge the services offered by Premier Properties, Prolet Property Services and Kent Property, amongst others. The budget for sports and societies has also been reduced by an estimated £20,000 worth of efficiency savings.

The immediate financial security of the Union is assured, given that its reserves amount to more than £1m. However, with a steadily growing deficit, unless a monetary strategy is implemented to reverse this decline, the Union could be facing severe financial consequences within a relatively short amount of time.
On the ground the Union’s efforts to reverse the fall in LCR ticket sales appear to be having little effect, with attendance for the Tuesday and Saturday club nights still low, and the events rarely selling out as in previous years.

The Union is carrying out a number of student consultation projects, yet until response rates are published, it is difficult to tell whether these will yield any results. The Union, like most institutions across the country, is facing a number of difficult choices as to where it should allocate its limited financial resources. As the deficit builds, however, no promises can be made on the future funding cuts and redistributions.

As the Union elections draw closer, the topic which ought to be on every campaign agenda is what to do about the current financial state of the Union.

31/01/2012

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