By Ryan Gould
The College of St Hild and St Bede closed its accounts for the 2014-15 financial year with a debt of £21,750, Palatinate can reveal.
As part of a wider investigation into the financial state of the University’s Junior Common Rooms (JCRs), Palatinate found that there were numerous instances of notable overspending across JCRs, with several colleges closing the 2014-15 financial year with losses.
Significantly, Hild Bede Student Representative Committee (SRC), the College’s JCR equivalent, opened the 2014-15 financial year with a balance of £30,184, but incurred expenses that totalled a negative figure of £52,557 in expenditure net receipts.
Hild Bede SRC reported a spend of £157,207 on activities in 2014-15, but earned only £112,221 in revenue from those activities. Similarly, the SRC spent £36,682 on clubs and societies, but earned only £25,534 in revenue from those clubs and societies.
When contacted, a member of the 2014-15 Hild Bede SRC executive committee provided a statement to Palatinate that explains how the “financial situation at the end of the 2014-15 academic year was due to a variety of reasons.”
The executive committee member said that the most significant factor in the SRC’s losses was the “fact that there was a succession of different treasurers,” with the “first leaving towards the end of the first term, and the third coming into office at the beginning of the third.
“This resulted in a persistent lack of communication, causing payments to go uncollected and invoices to go unpaid,” the executive committee member said.
The statement also highlights instances of expenditure mismanagement, with “unplanned” spend ing being “an additional, more fundamental factor.” It points out that “at no point did the president consult the treasurer on budgets, meaning that expenditure would frequently exceed income.”
…at no point did the president consult the treasurer on budgets, meaning that expenditure would frequently exceed income.
In the same statement, the executive committee member highlighted that the size of the SRC’s cash flow meant that the “magnitude of the overspend was by no means insurmountable.”
The “negative effects” of the mismanagement are reported to have been mitigated by various members of the SRC. “The current president has been able to minimise damage to the student experience, and throughout his tenure has rigorously budgeted all events, ensuring that such an occurrence doesn’t happen again,” the statement reads.
Hild Bede SRC’s status as a Durham Student Organisation (DSO) “also served to help the student experience” where “payments could be made initially by the University, and then paid by the SRC at a point when impact was minimised.”
When contacted by Palatinate regarding Hild Bede SRC’s financial situation, the University echoed the 2014-15 executive member in stating that “the financial statement of the SRC of the College of St Hild and St Bede shows that it had borrowed from the broader university as of 31 July 2015.
“This arose because the Common Room incurred expenses in advance of income being received. This does not signal a financial problem as the JCR was reasonably able to anticipate receiving income subsequent to 31 July 2015 sufficient to repay those borrowings.
“Indeed, the most recent internal financial statement of the JCR shows that it has, as anticipated, repaid those borrowings and is in a healthy net positive position,” the University said in a statement.
Indeed, the most recent internal financial statement of the JCR shows that it has, as anticipated, repaid those borrowings and is in a healthy net positive position.
Eleven JCRs across the university operate under the Durham Student Organisation (DSO) framework, which was developed jointly by the University and Graduate and Junior Common Room (G/JCR) presidents in 2011. Outside of colleges, other DSOs include Team Durham, Durham Student Theatre, and Music Durham.
Under the framework, G/JCRs operate within the organizational and governance structure of the university, but “maintain their own management structure and executive bodies who report to their college principal and college council,” the University said.
“The key officers of each JCR receive training and support from the university to assist them in their management and especially with regard to financial affairs. In addition, Colleges staff are always available to offer assistance and guidance as and when necessary.”
In a separate note to Palatinate, the 2014-15 executive committee member drew attention to unavoidable losses incurred as part of the SRC’s annual summer ball.
“After the SRC had planned the ball and committed to a large part of the expenditure, the police greatly reduced the number of tickets we were permitted to sell. This resulted in a significant loss of income.
“Whatever financial planning had been undertaken for the ball could not have been rectified given the notice provided by Durham Police,” they said.
Reference was made to the SRC’s annual ball by a member of Hild Bede when asked about knowledge of the SRC’s financial situation in April 2016. The person, who will not be named to protect their anonymity, told Palatinate that “a lot of ball money is spent on ‘big name’ acts,” alluding to the likes of Scouting for Girls and The Hoosiers.
“In my opinion, it is completely unnecessary. There are so many talented acts within the university; I just don’t see the need for them to spend so much on hiring these mediocre bands. I think less should be spent on these ‘big’, almost cringe-worthy acts that contribute very little to the ball experience,” they said.
“I also think it’s bad that all college students aren’t aware of the debt. I think the SRC should be more open about the issues it is facing.”
I also think it’s bad that all college students aren’t aware of the debt. I think the SRC should be more open about the issues it is facing.
Another student at Hild Bede also spoke about the general lack of awareness about the SRC’s financial situation, stating that they were “completely unaware.”
“I don’t understand how this debt has come about or how it has been allowed to accumulate to such an extent. The events seemed appropriately priced, if not a little overpriced, so I am curious as to where this money has been spent.”
Separately, Josephine Butler JCR closed their accounts for the 2014-15 financial year with a loss of £19,272, incurring expenses that totalled a negative £16,877 net receipts. The JCR spent £53,934 on activities, but earned only £25,570 in revenue from those activities.
The picture is similar at University College, where Castle JCR opened their 2014-15 accounts with £77,386 before closing with £39,661, reporting a negative figure of £42,420 in expenditure net receipts.
Stronger JCR accounts include St Mary’s, St Aidan’s, and both Queen’s Campus colleges, John Snow and Stephenson.
St Mary’s JCR opened the 2014-15 financial year with a balance of £95,499 and closed at £122,009, while St Aidan’s JCR opened their accounts at £87,305 and closed at £101,514.
Disclaimer: All figures quoted in this article were obtained from copies of DSO JCR accounts provided to Palatinate by the university under a Freedom of Information request.
Photograph: Durham University