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15th September 2014

Check the Exec: Policies and Promises

Haider Saleem takes a look at what the Exec have planned for the Union during their year in office.

Charlotte Cook – General Secretary

Coming into office for her second term where she first served as Community Officer, Charlotte smashed her opponents during the elections with 1206 votes, with the closest candidates at 365 votes and the rest lingering around the 300s.

Charlotte’s manifesto seems reasonable and she may not have much difficulty in implementing the majority of it. This is more likely as the Union’s budget is now in surplus and unlike last year’s General Sectary, her manifesto features no extravagant pledges (see last years discounted gig tickets).

Charlotte is currently in talks with the commercial team about how they can incorporate the ‘campus cash card’ proposed in her manifesto into the existing student card using the inbuilt technology. Charlotte described the progress so far as “really positive” and will be working out a timeline for moving forward with this project. The card is similar to the one that is available at Manchester Metropolitan University. The idea is to conveniently have everything on one card that can be used at shops around campus and incorporating reward points and top up features so even parents can add money to it.

To save money on food, Charlotte proposed having microwaves in the Union for students to heat their own food. Currently, Charlotte is developing a ‘microwave map’, mapping all the available and accessible microwaves on campus for students to look at. As well as this, talks regarding the third floor extension which is being built this year, Charlotte is hoping to get this incorporated into the planning as a space in the Union where students can heat their own food.

Her pledge for societies to be able to hire university rooms free of charge has already been implemented. Societies can now save huge amounts of money when holding events (see below).

Conor McGurran – Campaigns and Citizenship Officer

With a detailed manifesto, Conor will have a successful year if he is to achieve all of his aims. He has specific pledges regarding education, the campus, the Students’ Union and the NHS.

The pledge to lobby the University to reduce the amount it charges societies to hire lecture theatres is undergoing, and societies may be able to book University Place for free in the evenings in future, significantly increasing the space for societies and reducing their expenses.

Regarding lecture podcasting, Conor proposed a ‘points system’ in his manifesto as an incentive for students to still attend lectures, however this idea has seemed to collapsed and he has informed me this is unlikely to be happening any time soon, as it’s within the remit of the Education Officer. Compulsory podcasting seems to be heading in anyway, and we will have to wait and see if all courses will take it on. Conor would most likely to lobby those who have not taken it on after semester one.

Student apathy of the union has been an issue for many years. Clifford, Conor’s predecessor, had already established a student council which was on Conor’s manifesto. The council is made up of ‘various representatives’ of students groups and has places for elected students. It currently has little power. Conor is however putting his efforts towards the Students’ Union democracy review, where he is going to “completely change all of our democratic structures this year.” This is certainly something to look out for, as it could potentially be a huge transformation in the structure of the Union.

“Student Assembly, Student Council, Exec positions, rep positions, how we discuss policy, almost everything is up for consideration.”

Tessy Maritim – Diversity Officer

Tessy’s manifesto is made up of a broad ‘six point plan’ which includes policy ideas and pledges in various areas. Integration, of course, is one of them. This involves team building exercises at the start of the academic year to help bring people together. However, after research over the summer, Tessy has scrapped this idea and is planning on working with society heads. I can image Tessy will find it difficult to organise such events with all societies, as now there are over 350 societies registered with the Union. Tessy is also planning on launching an ‘International Olympics’ during Global Week.

Another point on Tessy’s manifesto was to work with country representatives to subsidies travel expenses for students. It’s hard to see how Tessy will achieve this policy this and how it is within her remit, however will have to wait and see.

Tessy also has the job of running the hugely successful TEDx event, and it will be interesting to see the individuals recruited to talk at the event. Plans to promote more diverse work opportunities are “still under way”, where Tessy called for more opportunities in exotic areas of the world such as Australia and South America. Regarding home country resits:

“I have had a few meetings with the university regarding home country resits and we are examining how the re-sit exam experience as a whole can be improved.”

Jessica Lishak – Women’s Officer

Jess has taken over the role of Women’s Officer from Tabz, who served two successful terms and backed Jess as a “powerful, positive voice” during the elections, leaving no competition for the other candidates.

This semester, Jess is looking to meet up with female students across campus and to fulfil some of her manifesto pledges which she has already started over the summer. Currently in development is an online tool for the MyManchester homepage and smartphone app for reporting and getting support on issues that students are facing, such as sexual harassment, which is likely to be launched and promoted in November. This will provide a direct link to the Union Advice Service who will deal with the complaint.

This semester Jess is also focusing on safety both on and off campus. Her biggest task is most likely taking the successful ‘We Get It’ campaign into an accreditation and training scheme for bars and clubs in Manchester. This also ties with her pledge to help students feel safer on a night out, for example, by always having women on duty. Being early days, this hasn’t started yet as Jess is currently waiting on getting collaboration with the Women’s Campaign and other students to further develop this. I can imagine it will be quite difficult to gain cooperation from venues around Manchester and it is unlikely that they will agree to always have a woman on the door, but we will find out in the near future. Indeed, Jess is aware of the task ahead:

“It will be a big project and also has to wait on a few internal developments of ‘We Get It’ within the union and the university.”

Another point in Jess’s manifesto was to launch ‘Reclaim the Night Bus’ – a spin-off from the ‘Reclaim the Night’ campaign. This will involve working with students, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) to improve safety on the buses and review how drivers deal with harassment and assault on their buses. Jess has set up an initial meeting with GMP and TfGM who both said they are interested to get involved.

Ellen McLaughlin – Community Officer

The ballot going into the fourth round made the Community Officer the closest run for office this year, and was secured by Ellen with 919 votes.

The most popular point Ellen’s manifesto was the promise to run a housing campaign, part of which would be the ‘Don’t Let Yet, Rent Right Campaign’. Ellen mentioned that:

“It is my priority to run a knowledge campaign to ensure students make informed decisions before signing a tenancy agreement.”

The campaign will be launching towards the end of October as it is a time when students begin looking for houses for the following year, which Charlotte of course far too early. Charlotte will also be releasing an in-depth guide to renting in the private sector as well as launching a highly visual ‘Don’t Let Yet’ campaign in halls and on campus. There will be a Halloween ‘House Of Horrors’ themed event and ‘Housing Week’ in the last week of January where the Students’ Union advice service will be offering pop up contract checking/advice sessions, along with various fun events on throughout the week.

Ellen will also oversee the launch of six elected Student Community Officers whose role it will be to organise events and run campaigns in the local community, as well as represent students at meetings with the council, university and local residents.

Ellen will also be working with the ‘Access All Areas’ coordinator on Widening Participation projects that focus on breaking down barriers to higher education for hard to reach groups.

Rosie Dammers – Wellbeing Officer

Rosie last year served as Education Officer, and this year will take the role of Wellbeing Officer, beating her opponents with an impressive 1525 votes. The only other real contender was Rowan with 749 votes. In contrast to Kazi, last year’s Wellbeing Officer, Rosie’s manifesto seems to have clear, sound policies which are probably down to her experience in office last year.

The main issue Rosie is concerned about is mental health, particularly the stigma surrounding it and giving students access to help when they need it. Kicking off a yearlong campaign, Rosie is planning a mental health awareness and action week, running in October. During the week, Rosie will work with volunteers encouraging pledges and participation and raising awareness of people’s own mental health.

By Christmas, Rosie has planned to have a written report on provision for students with mental health and use it to lobby the university to improve support services. Along with the report, Rosie has also aimed to have recruited and trained a number of students in mental health first aid so that they can be mentors to those in need. By then, The Union will have signed the Time to Change pledge, and will have trained staff in mental health first aid so they are properly equipped to help students.

Aside from the work on mental health, Rosie has been working with Sexpression to organise sexual health testing in halls, and has just started a piece of research on childcare provision (or lack of it) at the University. Rosie has also been working on a campaign to get students cycling called ‘Get On Your Bike’ – bike workshops and fairs should be coming in the near future.

Joel Smith – Activities & Development Officer

Joel has the responsibility of organising the three Pangaea Festivals and is very keen on making it bigger and better. This year he has managed to secure Mike Skinner and Tensnake as headlines for the first of the three Pangaeas.

Joel is also pushing to get more students involved in organising Pangaea and is looking to recruit volunteers for ‘Team Pangaea’, a group which will have massive input on the festive and direction. This could perhaps be the first of a big step into taking the festival to a higher level.  There will be a Pangaea warm up party as promised, happening on December 6th. Something else highlighted on his manifesto was adding an extra dome stage with projected visuals. He told me that this should “hopefully (subject to a sponsorship deal we are currently working on for January) tie in with the theme then” and is “90% sure we’ll be able to make this happen.”

The issue of why the Fuse FM is not played live around the Union is something which irritates all those who are involved within student media activities within the Union. Joel promised to make the most of student media in his manifesto, and told me that he is “working on Biko’s playing Fuse FM during the day and also ‘headline’ shows on Fuse FM being played in the Union bar 5-7pm.”

Bringing more “outside events”, the newly refurbished club academy is now open for anyone who wants to organise events. Joel believes that by second semester, there will be externally organised evening events to look forward too, in addition to Why Not Wednesdays. He told me “plans for WNW are also looking very fun, the staff team here are working really hard to make sure each Wednesday brings a completely new experience for students to come and enjoy, with money from every ticket going back into societies and future events.”

Joel is also working to improve the room booking system and create a society timetable so that it is easier for students to get involved with various activities going on at the Union. He mentioned:

“There’s great stuff happening all the time but if you aren’t in the right Facebook group or don’t catch an event poster you might miss out on these.”

Harriet Pugh – Education Officer

Harriet has worked on a range of her promises. The contest for Education Officer was a two horse race, with Harriet coming on top with 1709 votes. Backed by two of the Execs during the election, including Rosie who was the previous education office and now Wellbeing, there was little competition.

When running for office, Harriet said she is ‘passionate about education and it’s protection from marketisation’.

This year, Harriet told me that she will be “campaigning for free education, to improve access to postgraduate study, address the black students’ attainment gap, diversify curricula to include black, women and LGBTQ issues and working class material and deliver cooperative training for students to set up housing, knowledge and cooperatives.”

As well as this, Harriet is looking to train, support and coordinate course reps to run campaigns to improve the quality of teaching and learning. She will also try to get more student places on university decision-making committees to ensure that the student perspective is taken seriously in the definition of and solving of academic issues.

The Verdict so far:

Given that the Union is out of its financial troubles that they were in last year, there is a good chance that the exec will live up to their word and  fulfil their promises. Having said that, there are one or two pledges on the manifestos which there is already doubt towards, such as making travel cheaper for students. Two Exec members have already served a year; their experience was evident when I asked what they have done and plans for the future. For the new members of the Exec, they are certainly making positive changes to the union—from Pangaea to the structure of the Union

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