Kallum Taylor, YUSU President and the other sabbatical officers cannot not be held accountable for failure to act on many assembly motions that a majority of students present voted in favour of.
Unbeknown to students, YUSU have often acted based on decisions which were not Union policy, and many decisions made by YUSU assemblies since 2011 have not been taken on as official policy.
In order to legitimately create policy at an Assembly, a minimum of 35 Union members must be present. YUSU Assemblies have consistently failed to attract 35 students to their meetings, a series of statistics obtained by Nouse from the Union show.
In all meetings since 2011, the Student Development Assembly and Community Assembly have achieved this benchmark twice, and the Liberation and Welfare Assembly only once, while the Academic Assembly has never held sufficient numbers to take on motions as official Union policy. Students were not informed of this at the assemblies.
Josh Allen, former Community Assembly Chair, said he has “never known the Union encourage chairs to let members at the assembly know when there weren’t enough of them present.”
Taylor said, “We realised quite early on that they don’t work as policy-making bodies. We use it for feedback on policy in the pipeline.
“I’m well aware that we do still need to improve how we do democracy here”.
Cadan ap Tomos, the current Community Assembly Chair, said, “Members who turn up to assemblies are counted upon arrival. After the end of the meeting, we check whether or not we met the required attendance figure to make policy. If we don’t, then the sabbatical officers will use the decision as an indication of how to proceed, so long as there is no preexisting and contradictory policy.”
Motions, which were passed but not technically made policy, include the YUSU stance on University staff contracts and Demo 2012 – although YUSU does have a mandate to “lobby” for higher education funding.
However, Nick Hall, Democracy Committee Chair, confirmed, “assemblies currently have three functions, consultation, accountability and the creation of policy.
Taylor commented, “When starting the role of president I was unsure of the Assembly system.
“We have noticed improvements in attendance – but it’s still not really good enough at all and it needs changing.
“Expecting 60 or so people to rock up to the SU once a week, every week, is asking a lot of students. I want us to explore online streaming, and have more informal, less intimidating ways of gathering students’ views.”
In 2011, the introduction of new by-laws relating to ideas and policy saw profound structural changes to the democratic operations of YUSU. Though intending to increase representation in Union activity, the figures show non-officer members rarely participating in meetings over the past two years.
Hall said, “In the current form, they are excellent methods of consultation with the union members, however their capabilities in the other two functions are unfortunately lacking due to low attendance. As chair of Democracy Committee, I have recently instigated the committee’s periodic review of union regulations.”
He said he will look at “its current mechanism for accountability.”