QMU block grant suspended

Oliver Milne

£67,000 of the University’s block grant to the Queen Margaret Union has been suspended by the University Court’s Student Finance Sub-Committee.

The QMU – who were informed of the decision on the second day of Freshers’ Week – were due to receive the second tranche of the block grant in October. The committee however has decided to delay the £67,000 until an external company completes a review of the Union’s business strategy and the submission of an updated sustainability plan.

The decision has resulted in the Queen Margaret Union suspending any and all projects which were planned for the upcoming financial year, including projects which would have seen the Union increase its advertising and external signage in an attempt to improve revenues.

Minutes of the Student Finance Committee meeting on the 14th of August show that the decision was made after members of the Student Finance Sub-Committee raised concerns about the sustainability of the QMU’s business model following financial losses in recent years. The minutes describe the Union’s recent strategy of cost cutting and using strategic reserves to fund an operating deficit as “not sustainable”.

Emails between the University and the QMU reveal that the University has told the Union that it will meet the “reasonable costs” of any external review of the Union, provided the plan is carried out by an approved University partner. It is understood that they initially approached consultancy firm Deloitte who did not feel they had the appropriate skill set to carry out the review. It is currently unknown who will carry out the review, and what the exact terms of reference and cost of this review will be. It is also unknown as to what effect, if any, this will have on the third tranche of the block grant which the Union would be due to receive in the Spring of 2013.

Colum Fraser, President of the Queen Margaret Union, told the Glasgow Guardian:

“I have mixed feelings about the decision. On the one hand, an offer of help from the Uni is a positive step – even if only to display that some people within the University are willing to try and understand our situation. As much as the committee works mainly in budgets, it is sometimes a challenge to portray that the QM is a lot more than a purely commercial operation. The volunteers and staff of the Queen Margaret Union primarily work to meet the daily needs of the students of this University. A lot of this work cannot merely be found in the income and expenditure columns of our annual accounts.

“On the other hand, it is demoralising and worrying that such a level of funding had to be pulled at such short notice. It is a pretty direct way to attempt to get our attention, and one wonders sometimes what it is that they think that we do over here…The withdrawal of £67,000 has not as much focused our attentions as further frustrated and complicated our financial concerns.”

He continued – making a direct appeal to the QMU’s members:

“We really need your help now. This comes in the simplest forms: using the building and using our services. Only if the members of the QMU value and use the organisation and the services do we have cause to continue. Last year, a survey of campus opinion showed that 97% of students value the QMU and what it is that we do – that’s a lot of people who would miss it. We need your help.”

A spokesperson for the University told the Glasgow Guardian:

“The Student Finance Committee is providing QMU with external assistance to review the services it offers students. The intention is to help QMU be more successful at a time of sharp competition from other suppliers. The October tranche of QMU’s annual grant has been withheld while this review is undertaken.”

The Student Finance Sub-Committee is due to meet again in late October.