The results of a referendum on whether the University of Nottingham’s Students’ Union should disaffiliate from the National Union of Students (NUS) have been delayed after several complaints were submitted about the elections process.

10 complaints were received by the Elections Committee, levelled at both sides, including concerns that the ‘No to NUS’ side allowed sponsorship from UNiDAYS which, if proven, would break SU rules.

In a grievance form shown to Impact, it was claimed that the ‘No to NUS’ side breached the guiding principles that “candidates and campaign teams should not seek sponsorship for this election”, “candidates must not do anything to gain an unfair advantage” and “candidates must not undermine the fair and democratic running of elections”.

“The grievance form also includes photographic evidence of staff provided by UNiDAYS to support the ‘No for NUS’ group”

The photographic evidence provided to support the complaint suggests that on the 24th May 2016, the leader of the co-ordinating committee for ‘No to NUS’, Blake Purchase, contacted UNiDAYS to run a promotional event on campus to raise support for their initiative.

A comment on the private ‘No to NUS’ Facebook group by a campaign member then appears to suggest that the team had to make the presence of UNiDAYS on campus seem to be “a happy coincidence”, leading to concerns that the side had contravened the SU rule that stipulates that “corporate sponsorship” is forbidden.

When contacted by Impact, Blake Purchase said that: “UNiDAYS did come to campus, but not in any sponsorship capacity”.

He added: “Rob Jennings organised ‘external days’ which essentially facilitated the right of the NUS to send up to 10 campaigners onto the campus”.

Blake then asserted that the relationship between ‘No to NUS’ and UNiDAYS was created to “bust the NUS” myth that all discounts are lost upon disaffiliating from the NUS.

He told Impact that the presence of three UNiDAYS employees on campus is “somewhat irrelevant” to the delaying of the referendum result, when considering that the NUS “spent hundreds of pounds” on external campaigners in Nottingham.

Blake reiterated that Rob Jennings had approved the presence of UNiDAYS several days before they arrived on campus, but claimed that the UNiDAYS representatives were “rapidly pressurised into leaving”.

He also said that the relationship between UNiDAYS and ‘No to the NUS’ should not be considered sponsorship as they “were not sponsoring us in any capacity”.

Despite this, the grievance form also includes photographic evidence of staff provided by UNiDAYS to support the ‘No for NUS’ group and is followed by a claim which suggests that the ‘No to NUS group’ “integrated” the UNiDAYS promotional material “into their own campaign”.

“…that the support from UNiDAYS for the ‘No to NUS’ campaign group could be argued as a “corporate interest””

The complainant, a member of the ‘Yes to NUS’ campaign group, also outlined in the form that the support from UNiDAYS for the ‘No to NUS’ campaign group could be argued as a “corporate interest”, although there is no proven evidence that the organisation has gained any profits from this.

The grievance form also outlines concerns about the way in which the complaints have been handled by current Returning Officer, Rob Jennings.

It was suggested that Jennings (SU Activities Officer, Returning Officer and Chair of the Elections Committee) told UNiDAYS that they were allowed to support the ‘No to NUS’ campaign as long as they removed their own promotional materials.

This was alleged in the recorded minutes of a conversation in which a representative stood in for Jennings, presented to Impact.

However, Luke Watkins, Elections Committee Member, assured Impact that this contravenes SU regulations. He told Impact: “I think this kind of news deeply undermines student confidence in the SU’s electoral process, especially when even the Chair of the Elections Committee is not attending important meetings discussing electoral complains, and when the Chair tells UNiDAYS that they were allowed to campaign on campus despite election rules on sponsorship”.

“He stated that only three people from the Elections Committee were present to deal with the complaints”

Luke also outlined his concerns about decisions taken on whether or not the results of the referendum should be released, in light of the numerous complaints received.

He stated that only three people from the Elections Committee were present to deal with the complaints. Jennings was not present as he was – according to minutes of a meeting presented to Impact – said to have been decorating Colwick Hall ahead of the 2016 Grad Ball.

Another meeting was set to take place today to decide whether or not the results of the referendum should be released – bypassing the committee entirely – or whether a Union Council should be held.

It was decided that the Elections Committee will vote electronically on whether the results should be released on Wednesday 15th June 2016.

Rob Jennings has been contacted by Impact for a comment and has been given the opportunity to respond.

More to follow.


A representative from UNiDAYS told Impact: “Our presence at University of Nottingham on 24 May was agreed with the Students’ Union in advance to provide information on UNiDAYS as a free student service”.

They added: “We were not on campus in any form of sponsorship or commercial capacity. UNiDAYS always welcomes any opportunity to work closely with universities, as we hope to continue with University of Nottingham in the future”.

Tamsin Parnell and Steven Green

Image: Michael Swan via Flickr

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  1. Thomas
    June 14, 2016 at 01:18 — Reply

    So the article acknowledges that grievances were levelled at both sides, and yet fails to to even mention any of the grievances against the Yes side?

    Also, Luke Watkins is supposed to be an impartial member of the elections committee, and yet as somebody who stood for NUS delegate, he can hardly be considred to be a neutral voice on anything to do with this referendum.

    The SU has been incredibly partisan and biased during this entire referendum, and this is simply more evidence of an attempt at an establishment stitch-up.

  2. John S
    June 14, 2016 at 01:18 — Reply

    If No to NUS using UNiDAYS iPads and materials as part of their campaign is not sponsorship, I would like Blake Purchase to answer what he thinks the word ‘sponsorship’ refers to.

  3. Adam
    June 14, 2016 at 10:45 — Reply

    If Yes to NUS using NUS provided mailing list data, NUS provided material sponsoring NUS Extra cards, and having the NUS cover the cost of bussing in 20 campaingers doesn’t count as sponsorship then the SU are clearly being biased here.

  4. David
    June 14, 2016 at 12:02 — Reply

    This seems to be a messy process with both sides seemly acting questionably at best. There are a lot of questions to be asked regarding the yes campaign and the neutrality of many of those involved in the process on the SU side of this.

    My first question would be aimed directly at the elections committee regarding what exactly the benifit of withholding the result might be.

    My personal opinion at the moment is this has now become a game of politics, no longer is this an argument about what is best for students but who can twist the facts the most. The union are currently failing in their capacity, moreover who the hell is Luke Watkins and since when did he get the right to speak on behalf of the union

  5. Alfie
    June 14, 2016 at 12:54 — Reply

    In the pre-campaign meeting the rules were laid down by Rob Jennings – external campaigners allowed on certain days so long as he had notice. Already the ‘yes’ side has a clear advantage as the NUS executive have been known to visit campuses and campaign for their own interests. So the ‘no’ side organise for Unidays to come onto campus on a specific date, and very clearly inform Rob Jennings, who approves. On the day, within the first half hour, the SU marketing officer sternly warns Unidays to get off campus or risk their future relationship being broken. Surely that is a SU breach against the ‘no’ side?

    Also, where is the ‘unfair advantage’ when the yes side have the NUS behind them in the first place? AND they used the NUS extra card mailing list to tell all students to vote yes using false statistics – how is this not being examined??

  6. Alain
    June 14, 2016 at 13:01 — Reply

    Can Impact please do an article on what the complaints against Yes to NUS were?

    Its interesting and important to read what complaints were levelled against the No campaign, so I’d really like to know what complaints were levelled against the Yes campaign too.

  7. Dasha
    June 14, 2016 at 15:59 — Reply

    Unidays coming onto campus was not a breach of the rules. The Yes side were allowed their externals too! They were allowed for the NUS themselves to show up and provide ipads and other materials. Anyway, Unidays never ended up showing up! What could possibly be the problem? The SU could at least make clear what the actual issue is rather than keeping everything so under wraps. So bloody corrupt.

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