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Shock announcement of Co-op deal for Bramber House supermarket could be 'greatly damaging for union and all students'

The union has discovered it will not be involved in the running of the new Bramber House supermarket, causing "potentailly damaging ramifications"

The Students’ Union received a devastating blow last week when the university announced it will not be involved in running the new supermarket space in Bramber House, a result which could cripple the union financially by a loss of up to £130,000 a year.

Delivering the hard-hitting decision via its online bulletin, the university informed the union on Friday 11 March that Southern Co-operatives Ltd bid had been the winner of the much sought-after retail space. The bidding began in November 2010, when the union made a joint bid with the Co-op, being verbally assured that if the university were draw up an offer excluding the union, the Co-op would “walk away”.

The union communications officer Sol Schonfield stated: “The Students’ Union expresses deep dissatisfaction with… the University of Sussex. The [SU] will not be involved in the management of the new supermarket. The financial implications are potentially greatly damaging for the union and by association all students at Sussex.

“We find it deeply regrettable not only that the Southern Co-operative has abandoned its partnership with the University of Sussex Students’ Union in this bid, but also that we have found out by the medium of a campus-wide address both on the University website and newsletter publication, The Bulletin.”

The Co-op unexpectedly announced it would not work in partnership with the union after entering the bidding process independently despite its former agreements of co-operation. The union will have to close its services in York House and Bramber House due to competition law, without the union receiving any compensation when the new supermarket launches at the beginning of the next academic year.
The university asked the union to sign a contract under Section 25 for the vacation of the spaces which the union has refused to sign until sufficient plans for compensation have been put in place.

Charles Dudley, University Director of Residential, Sport and Trading Services, said: “The Co-op was the best fit with the tender specification.” He added that the Co-operative’s bid suited a number of the university’s criteria including potential employment opportunities for students.

The new supermarket will replace the current outlets on the ground floor of Bramber House. McColl’s will close on the 1 April but the other stores, Baguette Express, the Post Office and Union News, will close when the refurbishment begins in the Summer term.

The union store located in Falmer House will remain open, but the loss of its current services in and around Bramber House will be financially destructive.  The SU stated: “The rramifications for members of the bid going ahead without the union are immense. The potential financial fallout is in the region of £130,000 a year. It would be impossible for the union to carry on delivering all of our services with such a hole in our finances.”

The union currently receives a block grant of £625,000 which they have previously said would have to be dramatically increased if they were to lose out on this new form of income.

The decision to work with the C0-op was, according to the union, partly due to the Co-op’s “ethical and reliable” retail reputation. However the shocking turn-around has made the company “fall short” in their expectations. “We feel let down that a company with such a reputation should act in this manner.”

The Southern Co-operative are yet to answer specific questions on the issue but, in a recent statement, Steve Tremlett, Head of Retail Business Development at Southern Co-operatives, said: “We are delighted to be the University’s preferred partner for the new Bramber House shop, following a rigorous selection process in which we were supported by the knowledge and experience of the Students’ Union trading team.

“We’re now starting on the detailed design and planning stage to create a community supermarket that will meet the needs of all campus users and visitors.

“We’ll be talking to the University and the Students’ Union about how we staff the store, and we’re very keen to maximise every opportunity to provide employment and promote personal development among the student population.”

The university has said of the exclusion of the SU: “Although the Co-operative had been in discussions with the Students’ Union before it submitted a bid to run the supermarket in Bramber House, there was no formal agreement between them and the Co-operative’s tender was not a joint bid with the Students’ Union. Now that terms have been agreed by the University with the Co-op, the Co-op may, if they wish, follow through with written proposals to the University to work with the Students’ Union.”

The university went on to say that they remain open to the possibility of the union working in conjunction with the Co-operative.

The development of Bramber House is going to cost around £9million, with the supermarket start-up cost being around £400,000, and is scheduled to be completed for September 2011. The refurbished building will include two new restaurant facilities alongside the 3000sq foot supermarket.

Click here to sign the petition demanding that the union play an active role in the management of the new retail space.

An open meeting will be held on Thursday 17 March in Falmer House Common Room at 4.30pm to discuss future action.

The Students’ Union is expecting to hear from the C0-op on Wednesday 16 March in response to its most recent demands.

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