As we move towards the new academic year, it’s important for us to be up front about some of the pricing changes that will be in place across our services when you return to campus in September.
It's important to us that you know why we’ve had to increase our costs and the decision-making process that has gone on behind the scenes. We’re always very mindful of the impact things like this have – and we honestly try our hardest to find ways to avoid it. But as you can imagine, in the same way as all the shops, bars and restaurants you visit, sometimes it’s impossible.
During the summer, alongside the planning for Freshers’ Festival, we also go into our annual budgeting round. This three-month long process ensures that the Students’ Union is able to continue to offer our full range of services while also remaining financially viable in the long term.
The income we receive from the College in the form of a block grant only covers around about 60% of the costs of running the Students’ Union. The rest of it comes from the commercial services we run such as the Union Venue, Tommy’s Kitchen, Medicine, the Union Shop and The Packhorse. It’s important to remember that the Students’ Union is a charity, and as a not-for-profit organisation, any surplus we do generate is reinvested into our services. To put simply, whenever you purchase a sandwich meal deal, or buy an event ticket, you’re contributing to the funding of services such as our Advice Centre, training for Course Reps, or grants to sports clubs and societies.
You can see how this all works on the website we launched a couple of years ago here.
It’s important to firstly note that running any food venue relies largely on staff – those who work in the kitchen as well as others who take your order at the bar. As with all of our outlets, we use students to make sure we’re putting as much money back into your pockets as possible. But in April 2019 we absorbed the cost of the National Minimum Wage increase for the third year running without any increase in price to match this. In addition, the cost of purchasing raw materials such as burgers, French fries and even salad has risen significantly above the level of inflation – you will have noticed prices going up in supermarkets on an annual basis for the same reason.
All of this has had a significant impact on the cost of delivering the service and it is unsustainable to continue to absorb this in the new academic year.
We’ve looked across our offer and will be introducing a new menu for the 2019/20 academic year but the big change is that we’ve had to add 50p to the price of our burgers.
That said, we still believe that £4.75 for a burger and chips is great value and we’ve continued to honour our commitment to being the cheapest place to get coffee on campus. Added to this we’re looking at a number of new promotions which we’ll be introducing throughout the year, including a brand new burger and a bottle (or soft drink) offer for £6.50, and our new Breakfast Club for just £2 per day.
When we introduced Toast in January 2016 we had one single aim. We wanted to provide a totally new experience on campus at a budget price – that was different to the Union Venue club nights on a Wednesday and Friday.
Three years on from its inception, Toast is still the best value night on campus. But just as with Tommy’s Kitchen, we’ve faced significant rises to our costs over the past three years. In this case, up to this point, we’ve been able to absorb things like National Minimum Wage impact to maintain the £1.50 price point. But over the past three years, the cost of purchasing the drinks that you enjoy has risen considerably. For example, a bottle of VK has gone up over 10% every year since 2016, whilst other spirits have also increased in price. Some of this has been driven by changes to tax and duty, whilst suppliers have also been faced with their own rising costs. It’s also important to note that an eight year contract we had for free delivery ended this year, which has hit us substantially.
All of this means that drinks prices will go up by 25p to £1.75. But we’re trying our best to make sure Toast is still the night you love. So one thing we’re committed to doing is finding special offers which will allow us to introduce new discounted products throughout the academic year at different events. These will be time-limited but should ensure there’s a constant supply of new drinks for you to try out at bargain prices. And remember, Toast will continue to be free entry up to 11pm.
Part of our nightclub, the Night Bus runs as a heavily subsidised service as part of our commitment to the welfare of students – and getting you home safely at the end of the night. For seven years the price has remained at £1 – significantly cheaper than a taxi. But over this period, the price of our hire charge for the mini buses has gone up substantially, as has the insurance – where Insurance Premium Tax has more than doubled! That means it’s now running at too much of a loss (which means we can spend less in other areas), and we’re going to have to change ‘on the night tickets’ to £1.50 – which is still a bargain. Alongside this we have decided to replace the annual bus pass. Instead of having to commit to a yearlong bus pass which you may only use infrequently, we’re introducing the ‘Ten Trips for a Tenner’ pass. This gives you more flexibility than before while still ensuring you can use the Night Bus for £1 a trip if you buy your pass in advance.
Take a look at ‘cost push’ inflation here. It’s a decent explanation of the challenges we face.
We’ll also be recruiting for students to join our new Service Development Groups in the new academic year, which will give you an opportunity to learn more and be at the heart of decisions like this.
Registered charity no: 1141998
The Students’ Union, Royal Holloway
Egham, TW20 0EX