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