Union Council on Monday 20th February consisted of almost 3 hours of various student representatives discussing, mainly, a debate on whether or not SUSU should continue to sell products from Nestlé, in its outlets. This debate was sparked after Chloe Green brought the issue to the attention of Southampton students with an article on The Wessex Scene Online, 6 weeks ago. The final decision of the discussion was that the councillors just don’t know.
It took 6 council members speaking formally, over 85 minutes of discussion and 3 amendments before Aaron Bali, who submitted the motion, decided to withdraw it. The decision by the end of the discussion was that council was not adequately informed enough to make a decision as important as this on behalf of the entire student population. It was agreed that all council members would therefore report this issue to the students that they represent to gather a consensus, which can be brought to the next Union Council.
Sam Ling, who sits on council as an Ordinary Council Member (and therefore as a neutral party to represent the interests of all students), presented his disappointment that Union Council, the highest body of power in the Students’ Union, couldn’t come to a decision on this “simple” issue. In the council’s defence, the issue of Nestlé’s practices has been debated for over 30 years, so perhaps it was too much to ask to conclude it in less than 2 hours. However, for as many questions that were left unanswered about Nestlé, just as many were raised about the efficiency and structure of our own Union Council.
Over 50 minutes had passed before the first motion was even considered, another half hour was squandered deciding how best to delay the Nestlé motion to the next council and a further 40 minutes was used to address and withdraw a motion based on nothing more than miscommunication, due to inefficient posting of the minutes from previous Union Council meetings. With these inefficiencies in mind, there is a lot that has to be changed in the way council works. Most members left the meeting in far from pleased moods, after both the main motions were dropped; whilst all the remaining members had already left half way through.
There is a fine balance that needs to be reached between achieving a formal system, where councillors can precisely adjust the constitution of the union through motions and reviews, and allowing councillors a chance to discuss what is best for them and the thousands of students that they represent in a format that is productive, engaging and efficient. At the moment, this balance has not been achieved. Union President, Billy Fitzjohn, has already stated that there needs to be some reform in the way Union Council works and has asked students to help him with this consultation. If you have any suggestions to improve the structure and format of Union Council, then please email Billy on firstname.lastname@example.org.
However, as much as can be done to improve the structure of Union Council, it has to be asked if the councillors are accurately fulfilling their roles. The Nestlé motion in council was delayed because councillors felt that they could not speak on behalf of the students they represent. Part of being a member of Union Council is taking future motions (as posted on susu.org) to the students they (are supposed to) represent and discussing them, prior to council. No matter how efficient the structure of council, it is doomed to fail if the select students that fill it don’t adequately represent the students of Southampton.