Candidate Interview: Simon Pinney, Union President

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With Candidates for both full-time Sabbatical Roles and Students Leader roles in the midst of campaigning, we interviewed each candidate running for full-time sabbatical roles to find out why they wanted the role and what they planned to do if elected. Lifestyle Editor Tallulah Lyons, interviews Union President Candidate, Simon Pinney.

Simon, thank you very much for meeting this afternoon. You’re running for Union President, why are your running for this position?

I’m running because I’m kind of sick of the Union’s drivel. For me, it’s kind of personal belief, and it might not be correct but I think a lot students agree with me that the Union puts money first. Money takes precedence over the students, as a friend of mine said, they’ve taken the ‘student’ out of ‘student union’, and I want to put that back. I want the union to focus on, I mean like sport and well being, that’s a prime example. I understand that you need revenue, you to need to keep a business, you need to make money but at the same time it can discourage people form engaging. If you want to play intramural, you need to pay the gym fees, plus £30 to play intramural, nearly £200 just to play intramural sport. I think there’s a problem there, and I think the union needs to stand up to the University, the purpose of the Union is to protect their students.

In your manifesto, you said the Union should stand up for their students, how do you suggest they do that?

I feel like it’s a bit too early for me to say ‘these are the changes’ as I’m not in the position yet and I don’t know entirely how the system runs, I feel like, so the tuition fees. All I could see as a student from the opposition of the Union was a blog post, saying we don’t like the tuition fees going up, that’s not encouraging for the students, I mean behind the scenes there might be, but that’s the problem I have.

What would you have done differently?

I would have had a discussion with the university, and ask the reason behind this. It’s not an acceptable level to be going to, I mean it’s only been what two years for the £9,000 and now they’re already putting it up. They’re not obliged to, they can charge however much they want. I understand again they need to make money, but I think the union needs to do a better job of standing up against the university.

What experience do you have that makes you fit the role?

Oh I have so much experience. I’ve been involved with the union for the past three years with RAG and I was also a JCR events officer for private rented in second year. I’ve kinda dealt with the union bureaucracy in a way, I feel that there is a lot of it. I think I say in my manifesto that there’s ‘crippling bureaucracy’. So with RAG I’ve been in charge of engagement, trying to recruit volunteers, for various RAG events, I’ve been in charge at looking at budgeting, looking where the costs come from. Because RAG essentially has very little money, and we’re essentially running events at xero cost. I think I would be quite a good frugal president I’d be able to be ‘well sport and wellbeing could be cheaper, we might not get that much money, but I would still cover all the costs and deliver union experience’  I think my time in RAG means that I know how to engage with students, how to proactively engage with students and get them involved.

In your manifesto, you say want to put more events on at the union. How do you plan on doing this? And what events do you want to put on? You say you want to ‘rival Sheffield and Cardiff’ 

Well Sheffield, we’re not at that level yet. But Cardiff is the biggest union in the UK, it’s incredible, it’s got cheap drinks. It’s like a normal night out but you’re in the union. Sheffield puts on two events during the week, and they’re nights at the union. We have a multi-million pound venue, when does it get used apart from for freshers?

How would you engage the students? It’s all good putting these events on, but how would you bring the students in?

You put on drink offers. I mean, that’s one thing I realised at Freshers’, there were no drink offers. It was ‘this is the price’ and I thought it was cheap, but then I realised that it wasn’t special, this was the standard uni price. Because it’s a special event, you look to get cheap drinks, you look to get good headline acts. I feel like the union would have to, on those events, make a slight loss to an extent just to build the image. Thats the gamble you have to take, because if you keep on churning the same stuff, people are going to get more and more tired. If you go on the union’s Facebook page, about six years ago, they used to have regular Friday nights – and they look really good. I don’t know as I wasn’t here, but they look like they were successful and a good way for the union to make money that they can then pump back into the student body. You would need to repair the image before you can start looking at the profit, that’s what I mean by they put money first. They continue with the status quo because they think you can’t make a loss on this, you have to gamble slightly. Monte Boiler room, Glen Eyre Bar were never used, there are so many wasted venues that the union could tap into. Even if it’s just for one off, or every couple months, just to slowly engage and by the end of next year, students will think the union’s good and they can build on their success.

What are the main problems you identify within the remits of the role, and how do you plan to fix them?

Not being able to deliver on their election promises, because of red tape. If you’re in the position of president, you can go why is there red tape, let’s look at it – I think you can overcome the problems quite easily. For example with the red tape – why did the Portswood safety bus stop? I want to bring it back, I know that is is one of Alex Hovden’s election promises, but at the same time he’s already president – why didn’t he bring it back last year? There might be the red tape there that prevents the sabbatical officers from doing their job effectively which then restricts them amongst students. It might be one of those things where ‘it’s just out of our hands’ like why is it out of our hands? We should be able to proactively cope with these sort of challenges and kind of overcome then.

Direct quote from your manifesto, you want ‘to tackle the bureaucratic nightmare and lack of engagement from students’ – how?

A lot of people that I know that are on society committees, for example GeogSoc, and this year there are very few freshers and this is something that they need to get to the bottom of. And a lot of it is students want to be frugal with their money, and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that is why there might be that engagement lacking. I think the union has to establish themselves as something that you can still get involved with without having to worrying. The bureaucratic nightmare – I mean with RAG you send in about 12 different forms to put on one event, it’s ridiculous. It should be streamlined so it’s easy for student groups to put on events to engage with students. I understand the union and no fault of it’s own, but I feel that it is all the checks that prevents the union from running effectively. I probably should have used better terms, but I felt bureaucratic nightmare gets people asking questions. There’s too much going on and it just needs streamlining for the union to be effective.

The union needs to clarify that this branch does this, this area does this, as I think students get a bit confused as there is so much going on, they don’t know who to speak to, or who to contact if they want to put on an event.

How would you get that across to the students? 

Blog posts are great but if no one reads them, at the start of the year, give societies a union pack, a small booklet with various functions of the union. Just so that their committee can know who to contact, I know it seems a bit old fashioned, but at the same time we could have it on the website.

One other element of your manifesto is transparency. You say the “loss of Union Council was a step backwards for transparency”, however many consider Council a ‘talking shop’ that never really did anything, holding Sabbs to account. Do you think bringing it back would better transparency? What else would you suggest?

So essentially I found out that they replaced the union council with a senate. No one knew that, as I think there is a lack of communication within the union, and that causes a lack of engagement and a lack of transparency. I would bring back Union Council despite the criticism, I think you can put forward a policy and it can be acted on. As that’s the problem, it became a talking shop. And what has the senate done? They’ve just replaced it with something with a fancier name. I’m not disputing the fact that the senate is beneficial, but I think many students  think that the Union Council would be easier, open it up as essentially a union forum that can have students go give their queries. You can’t just turn up, you’d have to apply or something like that otherwise it could go on for hours, but then students could get 200 signatures to get this, then they could discuss it, agree, passes, done. I think the union council is a vital part of engaging with the students, making sure the students know it’s there and knowing they can directly influence the student union. I think I’d change how the union council delivers itself.

You mentioned satellite campuses, how would you increase our presence on these campuses?

For a start, I would stick up union posters. My friend at the NOC, says there aren’t even posters there. You could throw specific campus events, I once saw an ocean company that was at Highfield – it would have been way more suited at the NOC. Decide which campuses would benefit from certain companies visiting. Anything is better than nothing in my opinion, but people might agree or disagree, but that’s just my opinion.

Give us a 30 second closing pitch as to why students should vote for you, Simon Pinney, to be their next Union President?

You should vote for me because I think it’s about time for change, the status quo in the union has been going on for too long and it’s about time for some fresh air. We need to increase engagement, the union should be something we’re proud of, and it should be a students union not just a union. A vote for me, is a vote for you.

Simon Pinney, thank you.

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Third Year English student and Lifestyle Editor 2016/17.

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