Board of Trustees Update: December 2021

President Henn Warwick updates you on the key topics of discussion from the last Board of Trustees meeting, held in December.

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As always, the Students’ Union has been working hard to make student life better at Royal Holloway. The SU has a wide range of services on offer to support, represent, entertain and even to campaign on issues that matter most to you. A side to the SU that you may not know much about is governance and the Board of Trustees.

Our Board meets quarterly and December’s meeting covered key governance and procedural points that require annual approval. At all Board meetings, Sabbatical Officers and the Chief Executive provide updates on their work alongside updates from the various sub-committees of Board that have taken place since the last meeting. Let’s have a look at those key items that were discussed.

Sabbatical Officer Updates

Each of the Sabbs provided a written update that summarised our key activities since we last met! This included an update on ongoing work with the College to create a late-night bus service to help you get home safely after a late night in the library or going out – we will hopefully be able to reveal more on this one soon.

Maia Jarvis, Vice President (VP) Education, provided updates on her personal tutoring work and 24/7 library access. Alice Goode, VP Wellbeing & Diversity, highlighted her outstanding Disability Week campaign and updates from the eight Collectives.

And lastly, but certainly not least, Alex Parry, VP Societies & Sport, updated Board on his planning for Varsity which is taking place on campus this year! Alex also gave an update on the upcoming Cultural & Faith Festival.

Chief Executive Update

The Joint-Chief Executives updated the Board on the streams of work they have delivered over the last three months or are currently engaged on. They covered areas such as support for the Sabbatical Officer team, an update on the proposed Royal Holloway and St. George’s merger discussions, an update to our Strategic Risk Register, work on the proposed Freedom of Speech bill, and the renewal of Insanity Radio’s Ofcom licence.

They also informed Board of an increasing number of complaints and investigations and our planning to respond to this.

Finance, Staffing & Risk Committee Update

Finance, Staffing & Risk (FSR) Committee is a sub-committee of Board that is chaired by the President (in the capacity of Chair of Board). The Head of Finance, Joint Chief Executives, two Sabbatical Officers, a student trustee, and two external trustees attend this committee.

Following FSR, a summary report was provided to Board. The summary report included an update on the Union’s financial statements, Quarter One Management Accounts, Strategic Risk Register and staffing matters. Updates were provided on Insanity Radio and the merger discussions with St. George’s.

Appointment & Remunerations Committee Update

Similar to FSR, but slightly smaller, the Appointment & Remunerations Committee (ARC) is a further sub-committee of Board. Chaired by the President and attended by the Vice-Chair of Board and a student trustee. The committee gave a summary report to update Board on their work towards the recruitment of a new Chief Executive. ARC approved the appointment of an external recruitment consultancy, Dixon Walter, to conduct the recruitment process. Board also approved the timeline of the recruitment put forward by ARC.

2020/21 Financial Statements

Financial auditors, Crowe, attended Board to give the financial statements and Audit Findings report. This is a very detailed process that requires approval from Board and a signature by the Chair of the Board. Once signed and approved these documents are lodged with the Charity Commission. The Audit Findings report provided a clean bill of health of the financial controls of the organisation, with one recommendation in relation to stock reporting to be addressed. The last item of business was to sign the letter of representation for the auditors for 2022/23.

Quarter One Management Accounts

A summary paper of the Quarter One Management Accounts was delivered to Board. The summary provided an update on the organisation’s performance for the period 1 August 2021 – 31 October 2021. Overall the charity has performed well against budget, showing a forecasted surplus at year-end of c.£37K (delivered from over performance from our advertising and marketing income).

This bodes well for the Students’ Union and is in line with our three-year financial recovery plan following the impact of lockdown on our finances. Overall, expenditure on the charitable side of the organisation (student groups, advice, student voice) has been tightly managed while our trading services (our bars and shop) are generating revenue largely in line with expectations. A caveat to the latter statement is our daytime operations (the Union Shop and Tommy’s Kitchen) are underperforming due to low daytime footfall on campus but the drop in revenue is being filled by overperformance across our late-night offer.

We’re continuing to monitor this closely and making tweaks to operating models to ensure all of our services are sustainable long term.

St. George’s and Royal Holloway Merger Update

Despite the long hours of work and traveling to St. George’s hospital, the Board was informed that the proposal of a merged institution was no longer viable and all discussions on a merged institution had been ceased. The opportunity of future partnerships may potentially lay on the horizons, but for now, the College is prioritising its own strategic plan.

Complaints – Byelaw K & L Update

Michael Bailey, Head of Marketing & Communications, gave the Board a verbal update on the work conducted on a review of the RHSU Complaints Procedure, and amendments required to Byelaws K & L. Board were updated on the interim solution and the proposed timescale for implementation.

Any Other Business

At the end of Board, members are able to raise items that didn’t make it onto the agenda but require attention. Board was given a proposal for three celebration events for June 2022. The Summer Celebrations include one event for current students, one for alumni, and the third directed at the wider community; all three are to be hosted over the Platinum Jubilee extended bank holiday weekend. A summary budget proposal was presented and Board was asked for approval to proceed.

Finally, an extremely sad update was that Abi Jesson, Joint Interim Chief Executive/Head of Membership Support & Engagement, is leaving the Union. This was her final attendance at Board and all members were extremely sad to receive the news but equally supportive of her move to a new role. Board was informed and assured that significant planning had been undertaken by the SMT and an interim plan would be presented in January to provide assurance to the Board and the organisation regarding succession.

And that’s a wrap! Board meetings are really interesting and engaging throughout. I have benefited so much from the experience of being a Board member. Sabbatical Officers and student trustees are able to engage in high-level strategically driven conversations with external trustees relating to risk, governance, staffing, recruitment, and more.

I hope you find this side of the SU as interesting as the rest. If you want to find out more about getting involved in the Union’s decision-making process through becoming a student trustee or have any questions about this Board meeting please feel free to send me an email or come along to my student drop-in by booking a place!