Controversy has arisen surrounding the recent resignation of VP Academic Affairs elect Chris Pidgley. Allegations have been made that rather than purely medical concerns, Pidgley was invited to resign after it came to light that he had mismanaged £3989 from the Southampton University Politics Association (SUPA) funds.
In September 2009, the Politics society created a new bank account, with Pidgley the sole signatory and the only person with access to the account. Over the period of a year, the society held a joint Mistletoe Christmas ball and a trip to Brussels, which raised £1200 in funds for SUPA. Despite this, the society found themselves with less money than they expected. In May, signatories were changed, and some “cheque to cash” transactions were noticed by the new committee. Sasha Watson, current SUPA treasurer, confirms that after this ‘it was incontrovertibly proven that Chris Pidgley had signed for two cheques to cash, summing £1200 since February 2010, that were neither known to be done nor approved by the current society’.
We want to emphasise that University and the Students’ Union in particular give students a chance to grow, to experiment and to learn, a natural by-product of this is making mistakes. I’m sure we’ve all done things we’re not proud of, unfortunately Chris’s mistake was bigger than most.
Steve O’Reilly – Students’ Union President
The SUPA committee raised the issue with Sam Ling, Societies Officer, and Sophie Paterson, VP Welfare and Societies. After being confronted about the transactions, Chris produced a letter of explanation and full detailing of the SUPA accounts, and presented a cheque to the amount of £3989 that was registered as missing from the account. When asked about why he presented this money, Pidgley explains that ‘as with all large scale activites involving thousands of pounds, there were mistakes; As current President and last years Vice President I felt it my responsibility to make up ths shortfall’. This included the £1200 from the two cases where it was certain money was missing, plus extra that was admitted to being taken by Chris. He later wrote to SUPA apologizing for his actions, before resigning as Schools Liaison Officer and as a Trustee of the Union.
After apologising to the SUPA committee, they decided not to pursue any legal action, but to leave the matter with SUSU President Steve O’Reilly. As an alternative to continuing an investigation into the matter further through a disciplinary panel, as outlined in the union constitution, a source within the Union believes O’Reilly offered Chris the chance to resign from his elect post instead.
As far as I am aware, Chris has repented, repaid and removed himself from any gain that he was likely to receive from the University as a result of all the hard work he has put in over the last three years, which given our age, our prospects and our infancy in knowing how things run – is enough.
Sasha Watson – SUPA Treasurer
While Steve O’Reilly refused to deny that Pidgley stood down from his position as a sabbatical officer elect due to the accusations of money mismanagement against him, he insisted the main reason for his resignation were his health issues. He explained that ‘if he hadn’t of resigned we would have carried on the investigation’, defending his decision not to investigate further by stressing the Union’s responsibility as ‘a place where people can make mistakes. The consequences really shouldn’t be the same as the real world’.
Without an official Union investigation, which Steve O’Reilly decided not to pursue, Pidgley will not face any consequences for the alleged actions in the way he would have if a disciplinary panel had met and found him responsible. O’Reilly admits that given his resignation and his repayment of the funds, he did not feel that the Union should put him under the pressure of dealing with a disciplinary panel. He continued to state that Pidgley would not be barred from running for a sabbatical position next year.
There has been growing concern on campus that students in a position of power are not made to answer for their actions. Sasha Watson maintains that ‘Chris, to my mind, didn’t act with the fullest of intent, but more clumsiness, that lead to greed and stupidity, and finally habit’. Despite this, and Pidgley’s current health problems, it is hoped that in the future a disciplinary panel will decide on an appropriate outcome after an investigation, rather than having decisions made by the union before an issue is fully investigated.
The by-election for the position of VP Academic Affairs is currently taking place. Cast your vote here.