The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Missing money and ineffective halls committees put Uni reputation at risk

Internal report reveals that Halls committees are financially mismanaged and pose a threat to University’s rep

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Halls committees are finan­cially mismanaged and pose a threat to the University’s repu­tation, a damning internal re­port has revealed.

The claims follow an audit taken this year into two Resi­dents’ Associations (RAs), one of which is believed to be Ow­ens Park.

Dr. Tim Westlake, Director of Student Experience at the University of Manchester, deliv­ered a presentation to current RAs admitting that University auditors (UNIAC) report had exposed “significant gaps” in the accounts.

As a result, proposals have been made that would mean a greater involvement of the Stu­dents’ Union.

The report also indicates that elected student representatives are left out of key decisions, there are no real ways for resi­dents to offer feedback, and that major purchasing deci­sions are not transparent.

Residents’ Associations and Junior Common Room’s ( JCRs) receive a yearly budget from student rent ranging between £20,000-£45,000 to put on events for students in halls.

But when The Mancunion re­quested to see the audit under the Freedom of Information Act in February, the Univer­sity alerted General Secretary Nick Pringle, who asked the newspaper to withdraw their request.

When Mr Pringle was re­buffed, the Vice Chancellor took the unusual step of per­sonally stepping in to prevent the release.

A letter sent to the The Man­cunion by Dame Nancy in March read: “The University staff involved will need time and space in which to analyse the contents of the report and to decide on an appropriate course of action.

“The premature release of the report, before proper manage­ment consideration and checks for accuracy, could prejudice any future action or investiga­tion the University wishes to take.”

“It is my opinion therefore that release of the draft report would be likely to prohibit the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of delib­eration.”

The request for the draft re­port entitled ‘Review of Resi­dents’ Associations and Junior Common Rooms January 2013’ was officially rejected using two clauses in the Freedom of Information Act, one of which required Dame Nancy’s in­volvement.

Alan Carter, Records Manager at the University of Manchester, said releasing the damaging audit to the public would be in fact against the public interest.

“The University believes that the auditing process itself is designed to protect the public interest by ensuring that the administration of publically funded institutions is conduct­ed efficiently.

“Any release of data which un­dermined this process would by definition be against the public interest.”

He added: “The report con­tains a large amount of detailed information about the adminis­tration of RAs and JCRs which describe the actions and prac­tices of many clearly identifi­able individuals.

“This information, existing as it does in an early draft form, has not been checked for ac­curacy or discussed with the individuals concerned.”

This year The Mancunion has run articles questioning how RAs are managed and elected, as well as exposing the wor­ryingly close relationship be­tween promoters, committee members and bar managers.

In response, University has always insisted: “RAs are demo­cratic bodies run by students for students.”

But this report undermines those statements, as it claims the governance arrangements are “ineffective” and that elect­ed students were not actually “sufficiently involved” in major decisions.

Earlier in the year, a student told The Mancunion they knew members from a previous Oak House Residents’ Association who had used their budget to buy clothes for themselves.

A former Whitworth Park RA member labeled the finances a “clusterfuck”, while a former Owens Park treasurer said he was given no real training and was restricted from seeing the full accounts.

The report will mean RAs/ JCRs are likely going to be working much closer with the Students’ Union next year.

Nick Pringle said “Follow­ing a University review which showed some real areas of con­cern the Students’ Union has been working with residents associations, JCRs and the uni­versity to develop a new system for next year.

“Whilst we’re still consulting on this, the current proposal in­cludes vastly increased training for students on RA committees, far greater support with financ­es, greater value for money through collective procure­ment, dedicated staff resource from the Students’ Union and support from the Students’ Un­ion in many other areas.

“The majority of students cur­rently on RAs have welcomed these proposals as offering an enormous improvement and I agree that this is a great step forward for students in halls.”

One of the few RAs unhappy with the reforms contacted The Mancunion to raise concerns.

“It is my duty as a member of the JCR to secure the best possible deal for students. The JCR becoming an arm of the students union is not going to secure that.”

But Jamie Proctor, a former Dalton-Ellis JCR member who had his plan to address these concerns rejected, welcomed the news.

“I’m pleased to hear univer­sity staff have finally accepted there are major problems.

“I still have concerns, as when I raised similar issues last year I was ignored.

“I hope more senior members of university management keep an eye on it in the future and I’m delighted to hear the Stu­dents’ Union could have more involvement.”

The Mancunion can confirm it will be exhausting the ap­peals process in our request to see a completed audit.