QMU Presidential Candidate Interview and Analysis: Alice Stearn

Interview

Guardian: Sources within the QM tell us that a plan for a living wage has already been assessed, and at current rates the plan would bankrupt the QM in 5 years. How do you plan to fund this?

Stearn: So this is why I plan for this to be at the end of my term as it would only come about if [The QM] could prove to the University that we were still a valuable place on campus in order to give us more funding. That wouldn’t be seen in the next year; it’s a longer term thing.

Guardian: So your plan is to get the University to pay for it? Rather than to increase QM profits to pay for it.

Stearn: In the way that the University fund us every year anyway, obviously as part of showing our continued importance, it will be through showing that we are making a profit, but I personally think it’s something the University should be going for if it can be a wider campus initiative, I think it should be something they should support.

Guardian: So would you look to lobby with the GUU for that?

Stearn: It’s one of my main things for cross-campus, obviously the GUU would have to look at their own finances but certainly with the SRC and with GUSA, because obviously they have so many paid employees.

Guardian: When you say you’d like to see a 15/16 members’ discount at ‘appropriate’ outlets in the West End, does this mean for businesses that don’t compete with the QM? And if so, what businesses would be targeted? Have you sounded out any interest from these businesses in giving QM members these discounts?

Stearn: No, not yet, it’s going to be something I’ll be doing this weekend so I can go into the debate on Monday and have a firm idea of what things will be taken up by businesses, but predominantly yes in terms of which ones we’ll be having the discount for. My initial idea would be for working with things we already do some work with, Hippo Bears for an example they provide something that we can’t; we can’t do off-licenses or rather that we just don’t. Then there are things like services, hairdressers, salons, fruit vendors so yes, things that won’t directly compete with the QM. This is something that has been done in the past; it was an initiative of a President three years ago; she got a range of things such as kilt-hire, but it was never fully promoted. As part of promoting the QM within Glasgow and the wider West End area it’s one of the things I’d like to do.

Guardian: Today you released how you’d balance out board and committees within this you’ve said that you wish to fund committees in a manner away from generating profits. How do you plan to fund committees if not using profits?

Stearn: It’s predominantly to do with Campaigns and Charities and the way that we deal with the events that we run to raise funds for other charities. If the Campaigns and Charities Committee wants to put on an event, they submit a whole report to the Finance Committee and then the money is loaned to them with the expectation that the money will be made back. This doesn’t happen in the same way as it does for our other committees. Other committees are expected to make it back on the door but any money they make on the bar goes straight to the Union, so it’s about finding that balance between how we support our committees.

Guardian: So if the Social Committee made a profit, would it be able to use that money for future events?

Stearn: No, it would be more for if, say, the Campaigns and Charities Committee made money right at the start of the year they could  Obviously, if they were fundraising they would have to be honest with what they were going to fundraise it for. So at the start of the year, we would have a pot for our Red Ribbon Ball, which means we wouldn’t have to go back to the Union and, say, we want £600 for the Red Ribbon Ball, the Union gives us £600, we sell £600’s worth of tickets but then we only get a small amount of money back to give to the charity.

Guardian: You said that you wish the Union to regain a sense of activism. How would these campaigns be decided upon?

Stearn: By looking at the societies we affiliate ourselves with and looking at what they already do, because they are predominantly made up of QM members. For instance, the living wage campaign is something that’s already growing within the University, essentially looking at things that are pertinent to students and that we would like to see. Also by looking at what other unions are doing throughout the country, such as Manchester or Birmingham. They have these campaigns they want to take forward. Obviously, it’s very different to the way we run things here because of the four student bodies but going around and seeing what a student would benefit from if we campaign for it.

Guardian: Don’t you think that this is something the Charities and Campaigns Convenor should be in charge of? Also, doesn’t the problem arise that when you decide to pick on one certain campaign that it might leave other members of the Union feeling left out if it’s not a campaign that everyone unanimously agrees on?

Stearn: Ultimately, we’re elected by the members so you would hope that they have faith in us to know what to do with the Union. We’re not going to suddenly turn around and say “this is a campaign we want to do and we know none of our members want it but we think it’s really important so let’s do that!”. That’s not going to happen. On whether is should be the Campaigns and Charities Convenor, yes it absolutely should. I highlighted it in my manifesto because I think it’s something that is consistently looked over.

Guardian: You said that you wish to reassess catering facilities and prices. How would you specifically deal with the slight increase in prices at the Food Factory’s lunch deal?

Stearn: So I would like to see: Everyday you have a £4, £3 and a £3.75 meal, that’s it. Regardless of what we’re actually selling that’s it. I was also thinking of introducing a pledge that we would only ever sell a main meal and drink at £5 everyday; you’ll never had to spend more than £5. Obviously we would have to look at all the finances which is why I’ve said that we would just re-address it, looking at it again. But I’d like to see a bit more consistency and a higher standard across the board at the Food Factory. The things that we’ve done well this year have come out of new ideas like ‘Meat-Free Mondays’ have made me want to go and eat at the Food Factory more!

Guardian: Considering falling profits at the Food Factory, how would you respond to Stevens’ manifesto pledge to invest money into the way it looks?

Stearn: I will be honest, I haven’t read other people’s manifestos because I wanted to focus on my own campaign but I certainly think the Food Factory isn’t appealing. I say that we could focus on the food more to begin with. If it still shows that people just do not want to spend time in there then we can spent time making it a more usable space. I would ultimately like to update it and have it work for our members a bit more, considering that we have big groups of societies in there two or three nights of the week and they have to continually move things back and forwards, and if we could make it into a more usable space I would be all for that. I don’t think it’s the first thing we need to look at. There is the issue of the quality of what we’re providing. If we see increases and we can put the money into it that’s fine, but if we see a continued decline then go back a re-address was the space is providing.

Guardian: You mentioned streamlining the CSR project. How will that work?

Stearn: So CSR projects at the moment are like “what do you guys want to do? – great, do that!” It’s not “2 months down the line, what do you want to have achieved?”. Again, it’s technically one of the things that wouldn’t come down to me it would be down to the Convenor of CSRs. But it’s something that, having been on a few boards and seen some people take it on brilliantly and some people just pick on an illusive “oh I want to do this – I want to increase footfall!”, there’s no concrete “this is what I am going to do, so do this”. So when I say streamline I mean streamlining all into having the same guideline.

Guardian: What about a world in which a CSR is elected whose project pledges don’t fit into that structure? Maybe someone whose election pledge is to change how certain issues are tackled, or deal with broader approach issues rather than actual physical projects that can be measured?

Stearn: Well I suppose one of the things about the CSR position is that it’s very open in that way, the reason I’d like to streamline the projects is because we have seen it have successes. If you don’t want to do that kind of thing, if you want to be one of the voices on Board, the person who goes out and speaks to the members and brings that information back to the board, then I’m fine with that I’m not going to say, “well actually I’d rather have you make there to be more pens in the shop!”, you can do what you want as a CSR, if that’s what you’ve got a passion for then do it. But what I do think we need is a little bit more structure for those people who come on board and who do think, “I do have this really great idea, and I know how I want it to end up, but I don’t know how to make it work”.

Manifesto Analysis

Stearn’s manifesto proposes that staff and the elected Board of Management should work closely together to provide the most that they can for their members. A system that uses their contact with the membership will help the Board of Management be more responsive. However the membership of the Union is already disconnected from the QM structure as a whole. New things have been tried repeatedly, and nothing has ever had the desired effect. Engaging with staff might be difficult because of the QM’s already awkward staff-board protocol system.

Furthermore, Stearn’s proposal for a living wage campus is problematic as Stearn suggests in her interview that the plan relys on increased funding from the University, which will be very difficult to get even if she can gather support from the other student bodies and students as a whole. It is not however, impossible.

Stearn also wishes to update the Food Factory service, initially by improving the food and then looking into improving the visual aesthetic of the canteen (but she doesn’t consider the latter a priority). Part of the proposal includes having meals locked in at £4.00, £3.75 and £3.00 regardless of what food is actually provided. A similar proposal also entails capping the lunch meal and a drink at £5, whilst improving the quality of the food. This is clearly beneficial to students, as the cost of a meal would be capped. However, if Stearn wants to improve the quality of the food, then it is likely that the price cap will increase to cover costs.

Stearn’s proposals are bold but risky. She want to increase the political capital of the Union and make it more influential as an organisation. If she succeeds, the Union will benefit in many ways.y. If she can galvanise students, and the other student bodies, to put pressure on the University to deliver for students, it might just work in the QMU’s favour, but it will be a very tough uphill struggle.