A STUDENT UNION policy to support the international Make Poverty History coalition has run into difficulties after it was revealed that Charity Commission rules prevent it from committing funds to supporting the campaign.
The Make Poverty History policy, which was passed at a UGM earlier this term, seeks to commit the SU to both promoting awareness of international development issues on campus as well as lobbying political representatives in the wider community.
However, Charity Commission regulations state that the SU cannot financially support Campaigns such as MPH, which do not “directly affect members of the union as students.” On a practical level this means that YUSU cannot subsidise transport up to the MPH gathering in Edinburgh early next month and cannot even use office hours for activities such as letter writing.
“It’s really disappointing that the SU cannot act on the one issue which has really caught the imagination of students this year. Even after the union have been given a mandate to act over this issue, there appears very little they can do to help”, explained Graeme Cooke from the MPH coalition.
Student Union President James Alexander has been quick to explain the continuing problems the he is faced with. “The charity commission regulations are important but are not appropriate for governing student unions. I have endeavoured to contact other unions to see how they are dealing with it. The only conclusion I have come to is they are breaking the law.”
At York the approach has been to emphasise, through publicity materials, the educational aspects of the MPH campaign. “It’s annoying but I have been quite at a loss to do much else”, Alexander explained.
This isn’t the first time that the SU has been hampered in its attempts to implement policy by external regulations. Last June a policy to oppose the BNP was deemed to contravene charity commission regulations, which state the Union “should not seek to support or oppose a political party”. The legal proceedings that followed resulted in the incumbent SU President Chris Jones having to pay for publicity materials out of his own pocket.
A new charities bill going through parliament is set to make the operational environment under which YUSU works both clearer and more accountable.
“Hopefully we will be able to do more things that the electorate wish us to do and not be so paralysed by grey areas of murky legislation”, Alexander commented.
In the absence of funding from the Students’ Union, the MPH coalition of campus societies have continued to organise activities independently. The coalition has announced that they have sold out seats on both of the coaches going up to the Edinburgh protests early next month.
The MPH campaigners are calling for as many people from York to get up to the G8 Summit on 2nd July.
By Justin Webber – NEWS CORRESPONDENT