You will have all heard by now that the Bramber House supermarket bid has been won by The Southern Co-operative (TSC). Many will have probably assumed that this was good news as it was widely believed that this meant the Students’ Union (USSU) – who were initially partners with the Co-op in the bid – had won the bid and that therefore our future was safe.
This is unfortunately not the case. The University and the Co-op released a statement on Friday that name-checked the Union, but omitted any active role that it might play in the management of the retail space.
The Students’ Union originally embarked on the bid for the Bramber House retail space in partnership with the Southern Co-operative. The deal as it stood meant that the Co-operative would take on the lease and pay for initial start-up costs (c. £400,000) for the supermarket and that the Union would facilitate the management and staffing in line with the Southern Co-operative guidelines.
The Co-op submitted a bid with the Union as partners. Union shop managers were to take Co-operative training and “Staff teams would also undergo training & work placements in similar stores” (from document: Proposed TSC and USSU partnership working arrangements). The Chief Operating Officer of the Southern Co-operative also verbally assured the Union that they would walk away from any agreement if the University tried to exclude the Union from the bid.
At the same time as the bid process was underway, the University was simultaneously pushing the Union to agree to sign documents to vacate the Bramber House Newsagent and York House Store without any offer of compensation. The contract that requires the Union’s signature is called a Section 25 and legally necessitates plans to be in place for the later use of the space.
The Union has now instigated negotiations on compensation and have yet to sign the Section 25.
The implications for the Students’ Union
The ramifications for our members, if the bid were to go ahead without the Union, are immense. The potential financial fall-out is in the region of £130,000/year, which is equivalent to the total the Union spends annually on the entire advice service. It would be impossible for the Union to carry on delivering all of our services with such a hole in our finances.
What have we done?
- Letters: We have sent letters outlining our regret at the Co-op’s decision and asking them to reconsider the deal to their Chair, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer. We await their response.
- Lobby: We will be meeting with both the Registrar and the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Teaching and Learning to discuss the University’s role in the deal. They were both on the University panel that looked at the bids. Talking to the other members of the panel.
- Petition: We have created a petition asking that “the Union play an active role in the management of the new retail space.”
- Meeting: We have called a meeting for tomorrow (Tuesday 15 March) at 5pm in Falmer Common Room.
What can we do?
At the meeting on Tuesday, we may want to discuss (though not limit ourselves to) the following courses of action:
- Extraordinary General Meeting: An extraordinary general meeting could set Union policy for the next 3 years. We need to give 48 hours notice and to gain quoracy, we will need to get at least 550 students to attend. We could discuss motion proposals and pass policy.
- Continue to Lobby: The Co-operative still have the power to change this situation and though it seems like they have let us down at the moment we should not turn our backs on them yet. Writing letters and lobbying the University management are vital if the situation is to change. We have to remember that we are in the right in this situation and not to forfeit that with unfounded rhetoric.