Alex Tayler, General Secretary of the Students’ Union, has undoubtedly had a frantic couple of months — as demonstrated by the frantic pace at which he can be seen travelling at around the Union building.
There’s been a preferendum on exec officer roles, as well as the very blatant and, at times frustrating, building works that are still persisting in the union. Overall though, he seems calm when we sit down to chat about how he’s been the last couple of months.
He admitted that there have been “quite a few challenges” and that he’s been “very busy” but that he’s loved every minute of it. A particular highlight for him so far? “Probably doing the talks around living in Manchester with international students, I really enjoyed doing that with Riddi.”
I asked him if there were any policy points that were close to being achieved. He told me that “small manifesto points” such as weekly meetings with students had been successfully achieved. His new scheme, “Gen Sec on Tour”, has just started which will feature him and other “special guests” such as other members of the exec team or staff members speaking to students around campus.
He then explained why his bigger pledges were not yet finalised: “most of the things that I talked about [on the campaign trail]…. they’re not things that can be solved in a short space of time.”
An example of this was his pledge to create a combined bus pass that would allow students on both Stagecoach and First buses. He told me it would take “three years to implement” but the momentum for it has indeed begun. When I asked if he was frustrated, he told me, “everyone wants things to happen in a day, but sadly life’s not like that… I have started a consultation process, so there’s lots I can do to input into the process, if I rerun I’ll carry on with it, it takes a long time to develop but there is momentum there.”
He then added, somewhat cheekily, that current methods to solve the problems, such as the new Get Me There card, are, in his words, “a bit rubbish”, so he’s definitely keen to get his solution off the ground.
He did seem frustrated at how long things take to get done, but said it wasn’t something that was just limited to working with external companies – he said everything takes a huge amount of time before it can be implemented, but “especially with the University.”
Speaking of frustrations, I turned to talking with him about the recent preferendum on roles within the executive team. The Mancunion reported that there was 1.5 per cent turnout — equating to less than 500 people coming out to vote — which meant that their self-applied threshold of 4,000 wasn’t met, and the result wasn’t valid.
He said that the result was “a shame, but not that surprising”, as engagement in student politics is always hard to maintain. There was also a fair share of voter fatigue, given that the vote was being held at the same time as those for the Part-Time Officers and NUS Delegates.
For this reason, he said that the “process wasn’t ideal”, but when it goes to Senate and is “rubberstamped” by the trustee board, by that time there will have been ample feedback and they’ll know absolutely what it is that students want and need from their exec team.
One thing that you can’t really miss when you walk into the union these days is the extensive amount of refurbishment that is underway in the building. The expansion is due to conclude in the 2018/19 academic year and is, according to Alex, something that’s been necessary for a very long time. “People have been calling for more space since the 50s… we looked at minutes from meetings in the 60s saying that 400 students need more space so we’re coping quite well with 40,000.”
He thinks that the works will be invaluable to students when they’re done, but lamented the fact that, if he didn’t rerun in 2018, he would not be able to make the most of them. I feel very similar I must say!
He also added that “Council Chambers will have heating” and that it hopefully “won’t look like a 1950s mental asylum stroke prison on the top floor”… ouch!
Another hot topic at the moment is student landlords, and whether or not they may be fleecing their tenants. Alex said that Communities Officer Jack has been doing a lot of work on this subject and that they were planning a review of Manchester Student Homes.
It became much more of an issue when the infamous Fallowfield Students Group (FSG) created the Fallowfield Student Accommodation Group, which allowed students to ‘blacklist’ landlords that they had had bad experiences with. This has been suspended (for the time being) as it responds to legal threats from the landlords that were having complaints lodged against them.
I asked Alex what he thought about these types of Facebook groups. He told me that whilst he thought their engagement with students is fantastic and that they’re a good outlet for a whole plethora of student issues such as student safety, he thinks “they’ve created a perception of crime that’s far worse than the reality.”
He continued: “it is quite scary, you log in, and one person’s been stabbed here, another’s been burgled here, and these things are happening but the reality is these things have always happened… It’s a good forum for a lot of things but it can [take] things out of context.”
I finished by asking him what he’s most looking forward to in semester two.
“I’m really looking forward to celebrate week, as it’s an opportunity to celebrate all the amazing thing our students and societies do… and we get can slag off The Mancunion!”
I replied by saying we’d slag the exec team off right back.
I can’t wait!