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Members need real power to hold officers to account

Wednesday 19-04-2017 - 17:08

The democracy reforms being brought to National Conference must change our approach to accountability.

I’ve been an NUS Officer for close to two years now. I’ve visited over 200 students’ unions, met tens of thousands of students and made a number controversial decisions.

If I’m being really honest, I’ve also made a number of significant mistakes:

  • I didn’t see it coming soon enough that increased competition would make selling NUS Extra card harder, meaning less students getting less discounts and our future income.
  • While I helped stop 23 students’ unions from disaffiliating, three SUs still voted to leave NUS.
  • I couldn’t make national representation for nurses, healthcare and placement students happen – it’s taking far longer and jumping through more hoops than anticipated.
  • UnionCloud, employability and SU election turnouts are still not where I’d hoped they would be by now.

I wish all these things could have been better, or at least different, and it would be perfectly reasonable for the membership to want to challenge me on any one of them. I know why I think these things have happened and I have absolutely tried my best throughout my term in office – but it’s not for me to decide if I’m doing a good job, it’s for SUs.

And yet, I’ve never been asked a question on any of the issues at NEC. We know NEC isn’t fit for purpose. It was literally censured at the last national conference. We know that the Block of 15 doesn’t have a relationship with students’ unions. That’s why they’ve never questioned me about what I’m doing for students’ unions on these issues.

Even the members of NEC don’t like it. Our research revealed that half of the members don’t want to speak because they’re afraid of being scorned and bullied on social media.

So, the democracy reform amendments to keep NEC the same baffle me. The vast majority of students and SUs that we consulted were very clear, they don’t want to continue to elect a block of 15 people to hold the other officers they elect to account.

Students and students’ unions want the power to hold officers to account directly and we must give them that power. We’ve proposed a way of doing accountability that suits the full diversity of our membership, but the Old Guard of more traditional unions are trying to amend this proposal to keep it the same.

Let me be clear - if we want to make a dramatic political change to the political culture of NUS we have to change its epicenter. We have to change NEC and give real power to the members to hold officers to account.

Richard Brooks
NUS Vice President Union Development

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