Imperial College Union is a membership organisation, which means it’s extremely important that we keep you, our members, up to date with what’s going on in the organisation.
Like all other charities with commercial operations, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been substantial on our finances. Within this year we’ve had to fully close all our bars and shops, and whilst the government’s furlough scheme has softened the economic impact, it is still the case that within this year we are due to post a substantial deficit – using the majority of the money we hold in our reserves (our savings, if you like) to see us through this tough period.
In addition to this, when we look ahead to the 2020/21 academic year, it is also highly likely that many of these commercial services will operate entirely differently for the first term at least, with some remaining wholly or partially closed. We will be communicating more specifics about this as we get closer to start of the academic year, as we gain more certainty what rules and regulations will be in place.
As a charity we need to be mindful that the income we receive from the College to fund essential services for students (advice, representation and support for clubs, societies and projects) doesn’t subsidise a loss in our bars or our shops. Social distancing rules and changes to how campus will operate in the short to medium term mean that many of our outlets won’t be able to open without losing money – which is clearly a position we can’t be in.
The College are extremely supportive of Imperial College Union and recognise that a financially viable students’ union is an important element of student life at Imperial. However, it is also important the Union acts responsibly on your behalf and takes as many measures as it can itself in order to get through the challenging year ahead. Whilst we can’t talk about some of the specifics due to confidentiality, we felt it important to make sure you were aware of some of the key principles behind these proposed changes, and what they will mean for you and your students’ union.
The largest single portion of the Union’s expenditure is our permanent staffing team, and therefore unfortunately, we are now in the position where we must make changes as we head towards the closure of the government’s furlough scheme. The changes to staff we are proposing and consulting on are essential if the Union is to remain solvent. Without significant reductions, and with the expected drop in our commercial revenue, we would simply run out of money, and the Union would cease to operate.
We are trying to protect as many front-line roles as possible, particularly where we know these are essential to supporting student volunteers – in representation, clubs, societies and projects, and our casework for students in need of personal support. We know just how essential these roles are to many of you.
Our commercial services
We do plan to open our commercial outlets during term one where possible, but only when we can do so safely, within the broader rules governing campus, and when it is commercially viable. This will be different for every outlet and we’ll be making a further announcement on this during late August.
Our plan is to positively rebuild our commercial outlets once the pandemic has eased further in the new year – but based on a new strategy and better aligning them with what you want. This means we’ll be running a large review of what we offer, and what you want to see from your students’ union. A major element of this review will be how we deliver a better service as well as maximise the opportunities available to students to help us deliver these, putting more money back into your pockets and giving you more management and development opportunities. We will come back stronger and more relevant – and making these changes now will enable this.
Finally, we want to reiterate that this is a position no organisation, and certainly no students’ union ever wants to find itself in. The COVID-19 pandemic has created significant uncertainty for the whole of society, and both Imperial College London and Imperial College Union are not immune to this. We’ll be keeping you further updated over the coming months for more changes, as well as how you can get involved in a wholescale strategic review of the organisation – as we start putting in plans to transform the organisation into the students’ union we all know that Imperial College students deserve.