2018-10-24 Exec Emergency Meeting
Present: Elena Martin, Amy Kuner, Ella Burrows, James Cochran, Lauren McNally, Emma Croll, Masha Markova, Ell Page, Sarah McAllister, Jade Bryant (late), Alex Blackwood (late)
Absent: Ellen Morgan, Gosh Jordon,
Setting: Conference Room 30mins before the Frep Formal. Everyone looking dapper. Emma doing her makeup throughout.
Lots of mumbling about how late AB is considering he’s quite important for this issue.
Money/Treasurer issues (AK)
AK: Announcement; James Plaut is no longer a trustee. Pretty sure we all know what trustees are but just to clarity- they are responsible for the charity. So they are financially responsible if we mess up. We have a legal expert, a finance expert, people who know things about welfare sitting on there who are meant to make sure we are operating within our guidelines. So, they are essentially the people who can make the biggest decisions, though most of the time they leave us to it and assume we are doing a good job as long as we give them all the info.
BUT they have brought up some concerns in the last Trustee Meeting which are fair. So, James Plaut brought up a proposal to outsource part of the treasurer’s role to an accountancy firm.
We can come up with a counter argument if we like, so today we just need to form an opinion on that idea really so that we can take it back to them. They can overrule us on that if they want. They an say they aren’t comfortable. But yeah, we can feed back.
EC: Why is James Plaut no longer a trustee?
AK: So, the recent meeting was quite heated. But he has come up with a target operating model for finance which is quite good because things need to change.
In terms of history, in the way that our financial year works, and the charities history, we have never submitted our accounts on time. So, this is a huge issue legally. The charity could be massively penalised. So the trustees have big concerns.
James initially submitted this 45 page long document which is his target operating model and it’s good work. The main thing is the deadline. Another thing is he thinks the trustees don’t have enough oversight about the finances.
The case for change is good.
AK: I could post it in the group?
EM: I think you should.
AK: Okay, but for now I’ll do a summary.
EM: Yeah, post it otherwise we will have the same issue as we had in the trustee meeting where people were making decisions on things they hadn’t read.
AK: I was going to bullet point in. Me and AB discussed it so lots of it is discussion around things. [Amy posts it in the group chat]. There is a proposal section…
EM: Are we coming up with a decision on this now?
AK: No, a talk through then getting a general consensus.
EC: Agree that bullet points are best now and we can go and look at it properly after the meeting.
AK: One of the big things is the trustees want the Treasurer to live in again. Obviously, with Durham housing, there is no way to make that fair when there is more than one candidate because then the losing candidate would not have a place to live if they hadn’t already signed for a house so we would have to move the treasurer election to earlier in the year.
EC: So, it would have to be first term?
AK: Exactly. Maybe second meeting or something.
EC: Even then, some people sign in mid November and that’s just about when the second meeting is.
EB: But people could put off signing just that little bit if they were serious about going for this role.
JC: Could we not negotiate with college to try and guarantee rooms in Brooks for those who run and don’t get elected? Because it used to be that treasurers always lived in and there would never be a problem if it was contested because those who lost just lived in Brooks.
EC: Why does the treasurer need to live in?
AK: because of things like, we don’t have official cash handing procedures. Like, with sports and socs if they give you money then you have to find time to go to the Bailey to put it in safes and things. And if you live far out in Gilesgate or something it just becomes a lot of time walking. And that time is time where money can be lost. You are around if people need you. It’s the argument for why the President lives in but just on a treasurer basis- if that makes sense.
EP: Surely if it’s a matter of time walking places, then it’s up to the treasurer to make that work for them. They sign up for it.
AK: But there are a huge number of things the treasurer needs to do. Like, there is a lot.
JC: I don’t think people always realise how much they are getting into when they run for treasurer. It’s hard to get across the idea of how much time it takes.
AK: It sounds stupid but it adds up. And if things go wrong on top of that then it just doesn’t work.
MM: Why is it not sabbatical then?
AK: Well that could be something that we suggest. So, we should consider it. I’m going to make a google doc where we can all put up pros and cons so that we know what we are taking to the trustees. One of the things that James had an issue with was the fact that things as Cuth’s just don’t get done in time.
Then he wanted to include the Assistant Treasurer position which I suggested to him and he’s very happy with that. And he originally wanted them to do the book keeping bit, and then he wanted an Honorary treasurer to overlook everything. He would like proper external training in accounting because there is nothing at the moment.
EC: that’s mad.
AK, AB, JC: Yeh.
JC: Especially if, one year, someone leaves without really bothering to handover. Which happens in all roles every few years.
AK: Then James also wants to invest the charity reserves in a particular way. Fine. An annual cycle of tasks. Great. Defining structures. Great. And then creating a proper procedures manual. Great.
EC: What does defining structures mean?
AK: Basically, like how we authorise payments and things. I think he just means dual verification for things which we will hopefully be getting in the next few months.
So, that was all great. AB and I are trying to get most of that done this term/ by the next trustee meeting. Then there is another document [Amy puts it in the groupchat].
This is the controversial one. It gets sassy. He thinks that we should outsource the bookkeeping to an accountancy firm. Which would kind of get rid of the need for assistant treasurer but he only wants to do it for a year. Chair of the financial part of the trustees- originally he was very against the idea, but now he has decided he is in favour of outsourcing. So that means that doing all the payment and keeping track of them would be outsourced.
AB: Yeah like all the bookkeeping.
EC: But what does this mean?
AK: For the room? So, I think we could do it so reclaims could be done by the treasurer, and then the big university payments would be done by the firm. Things like president’s salary would be done by them. One of the issues we had with the last audit was that we missed some of the salaries because the university just never sent the invoices. And it’s easy to miss something you don’t know you should be keeping an eye out for. Tim was saying that this should be external because it ended up adding up to 4-5k because it was a few months of salary.
It’s the universities fault, but it’s things like that for students to miss with everything else going on.
It’s also an issue that this change could mean that one of the exec members would have a lot of their role taken away from them.
That’s why we are bringing it to you guys before the trustees make their decision.
We have a few options that me and AB have come up with. One, which I now don’t like (after a chat with Tim because I don’t think we could get away with it), just having the treasurer do everything in the target operating model but then just having the treasurer have fortnightly meetings with an accountant rather than just handing it off – so having a firm on an advisory basis.
Another idea is having it as a sabbatical role. But we don’t know if there is quite enough for it to be a full time job. Grey have a sabbatical treasurer but that role is also ‘commercial operations’ so they have lots more than just treasurer things to do. But at the same time it would give us stability and we could train them properly. But again, the trustees might say that they could leave at any minute. But we don’t think that’s a fair argument.
EC: the president could leave at any minute.
AK: Exactly. But yeah, that’s all the background and I wanted to let you know what’s happening. The trustees want to make a decision but I want us all to be involved because this is essentially changing an exec role a lot. Any questions? Please do read through the slides.
EC: Just for clarification, is the stance that we are taking that we don’t want to outsource?
AK: That’s what we are deciding.
AB: So, I think the initial proposal involved outsourcing for a year to get all the financial procedures that we need in place and kind of make sure we have a really good, well working cloud based accountancy system and good reclaims software. I can get behind that depending on how much work that’s going to be. But, I think that just outsourcing it on a yearly basis isn’t going to work. If the work isn’t enough for a sabbatical, but we have an assistant treasurer, and we have a finance comm who can actually help to do a lot more (which they would be able to with good new procedures in place) then I don’t think we need to be paying however much to have a firm. If we do have some oversight and an honorary treasurer there then we can get that support from them too. I’d be happy to trial it, but I don’t like the outsourcing is a good long term solution.
AK: The only thing, I in principle massively agree with AB. If we have this new method I position to help take on a lot of the load then I can see that it would be much simpler to add that in, keep the rest as normal structurally but then put James’ procedures in place. But I think that the trustees are really really really concerned, rightly, as they are legally liable.
AB: A point I’ve thought of now. I don’t know about the flexibility of someone else doing the books. Like how easy is it going to be to make all the small changes that go on in the JCR? An external company will have their own procedures and ways of doing things. It’s a generic comment but worth having in the minutes.
MM: Like subs will change all the time in some societies. How are we going to explain that to an external company?
JC: They will be very used to income fluctuating all through the year. The bigger concern is the big changes in operating procedures because, as students turn over every three years, those happen all the time.
AB: Like in three years, if the exec then don’t think this is the best way to do it.
AK: What if the external company decides not to use dual verification? Then all of a sudden that’s one person making payments with no one checking them. A new exec might not like that and want to change back etc. Big changes happen a lot.
AB: As an example, Megan did a massive exec structure which was a significant change.
LM: Why have the books never been in on time?
AK: I think, part of it is the year structure…?
JC: I would like to blame that, but before I was treasurer when they were meant to be in in January, they were never in on time then either. So I changed it to July and they were still never in on time and that still hasn’t worked. So we can’t blame the time.
AK: I just don’t know.
LM: So is the idea of outsourcing to make sure the book are in on time.
AK: Yeah, that’s the main thing.
EB: Surely it’s not worth changing and deciding to have assistant treasurer and deciding to outsource at the same time? Because if we have that role, surely we can use that to justify waiting a year to see if that works, and if we get them in on time, because theoretically that would make it possible. But if it is still an issue next year, then let the next exec know about this debate and let them know that the should consider outsourcing because this idea didn’t work. It’s not saying we want to hold off change, it’s just saying that we should create a new role and it might as well be one or the other.
AK: My main suggestion to Tim was that, if by the end of the year we have all these structures in place and it’s still not in on time then that’s when we really look at outsourcing.
EC: I know I’ve already asked this but can we clarify what we want out of this so that we know how to achieve it.
AB: To summarise, the two key things are that we don’t have the financial policies and procedures in place that we need to have, and also that we don’t have the audits on time.
EC: So what’s the problem with their proposal? There are so many different parts to it. So obviously we don’t like the idea of books being outsourced, but do we like the idea of bringing in this new process of how you do things?
AB: it’s more like procedures?
EC: yeah, and we don’t like this one-year business? Well if we did that year of sorting it out, could we have one person in charge of that and then AB still does the books?
AK: Well this is the thing. I don’t really see how they can justify getting the books done… because we want to move to ZERO – a different accounting software. An accountancy firm is not going to set up your accounts for you.
JC: No. They will have their own system of doing it.
AK: So, I don’t see the point in that really.
LM: Isn’t the accountancy firms’ point more to make sure that nothing is missed.
AK: That’s what I thought.
SM: Is that not what the honorary trustee is going to do?
AK: That’s what we thought.
MM: If it’s all on some different accountancy software how are we doing to split the workload?
AK: This is a question.
MM: There is an argument to say they should either take over everything or nothing.
AK: I think the main way they wanted to split it was the treasurer still had control over the budget and finalising accounts at the end of the year and overseeing things, but it wouldn’t be a lot of the job.
EB: If the firm came in and we did outsource for a year, when the year was up and we came back in, would it be complicated for us to work out how to take back control of the books? Surely we would have to then have to be advised by the firm – who wouldn’t really want to because we would be business leaving them, so the new treasurer would have to work out how to run it. Surely it’s either a long term or a short term thing otherwise coming back to a system where the JCR runs stuff would be massively complicated.
JC: I’m a firm believer that we need to keep this in the JCR. A lot of other colleges have the University doing their finances for them. This is not what Cuth’s is about, but it would be a lot like that if we start outsourcing. So, I think it’s much better if we can bend to them on everything other than outsourcing the accounting. I’d be in favour of keeping everything in house, in whatever way they are happy with.
AK: So is it looking like the main option is putting everything else in place, and then, if they accounts aren’t in by the end of the year, then we say that we will look into outsourcing.
EM: Everyone should still read Plaut’s stuff. Because you might change your mid after that.
EC: I think the biggest argument is postponing it. Especially when we already have a big change planned, they can’t come in and make a bigger change in in the opposite direction. I mean, give us a chance.
AK: Their argument is that it’s been years. But I personally think that, with past presidents, a lot of them haven’t thought that this was a priority and it’s just slid under again and again.
SM: Have the trustees proposed anything in the past that we haven’t done?
AK: I don’t know. Not last year while I was treasurer. But this is massive. I think we should at least try. I mean, James Plaut wanted to vote on it in the trustee meeting.
AK: so is everyone okay with the counter proposal or not?
EC: Yeah, just appease them in anyway you can other than outsourcing. Even that meeting with an accountant regularly. If their main problem is that we aren’t going to meet that big deadline, can’t the trustees set us little deadlines where AB has to prove that he’s done this and this by this point? Would that be part of a good solution?
AK: I think that, to be fair, AB and I have set out a plan for the next term and hopefully we are going to get all of that done by the next trustee meeting -2nd December.
MM: Also if they want to oversee it more, can’t we just give them more?
AK: yeah, this is what the honorary treasurer role would do.
SM: I think what your suggesting is a big compromise in itself. You are making a big effort here to change things.
AK: Yeah, so cross fingers on that.
EC: What upsets me is that this is a charity for students, run by students and outsourcing takes a massive opportunity away from someone who wants to be treasurer. I know it’s for the benefit for the whole college, but it can be for massively influential for a few people.
AK: Okay, so we will put together a counter proposal document over the next week or so and circulate it.