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New legal form recommended for the Unioncharity commission

In 2011, Staffordshire University Students Union registered as a charity under English Law in order to retain its charitable status following changes to the charities Act.

When it registered it did so under its existing "unincorporated status". Being unincorporated means that the responsibility (and liability) for entering into contracts, employing staff and holding the assets lies with the individual trustees of the organization.

Following a monitoring visit by the Charity Commission in 2015, it was recommended that the organization consider moving to an "incorporated status".

Incorporating means that the Students Union is a legal entity in its own right and can therefore enter into contracts and hold assets in its own name, rather than its trustees. This reduces some of the personal liability risks that the trustees are exposed to.

You can check out the current constitutional and byelaws here

Changing the legal structure

There are 4 elements of approval required to change the legal structure:

  • The Charity Commission - since we are retaining all the purposes of the original charity and adopting their model articles this is a formality.

  • The Trustees of the Students Union - since we are following the recommendations of the Charity Commission, and this change has been initiated at the request of the trustees, this has been approved.

  • The Governors of the University - since the operation of the Students Union falls under the University under the Education Act, changes to its constitution require the ratification of the University Governors.

  • The membership of Staffordshire University Students Union - the constitution allows for the Union to move to transfer to an incorporated structure with the approval by a majority of members at an Annual General Meeting.

    However, since there is an additional recommendation to update parts of the constitution, these additional changes require the approval of a 75% majority of students voting in a referendum, at which at least 500 members participate.

Additional Changes to bring the constitution up to date

Whilst undertaking the review of requirements around incorporation, three recommended changes to the constitution and byelaws were identified to modernise our governance and align it with the current make up of the student body.

Provision to increase the size of the trustee board in the future.

The current trustee board is capped at 12 individuals (5 officers, 4 student trustees and 3 appointed trustee). Although there are no immediate plans to change the composition, to enable the board to be responsive to future demands on time, skills mix and composition, the maximum board size should be increased to 16, by adding an additional place in each category.

Student Trustees to be appointed to the board

With the need to ensure the board is balanced and effective it is recommended that Student trustees are interviewed and appointed by the Board Appointment Committee (as for external trustees) as is common practice in other charities. Currently some students who would be excellent trustees are put off by the process of having to run for election - particularly part-time and mature students.

In previous years some candidates who had stood for, and were elected to trustee positions, didn't understand or engage with the role, leaving the board lacking in direct student input.

The Officer Trustees would still be elected to their positions by a cross campus ballot, as currently happens.

Student Council to be updated in the governance structuregovernance windmill

Operationally, Student Council has been substituted with a series of student "Better Staffs" forums throughout the year. This uses a panel of randomly selected students to make decisions on proposals and policy presented to them.
 

Whilst this process of "citizen decision making" has worked and will be retained, it is proposed that a Student Representative Council is introduced to improve the oversight of the work of the Union and to help shape how member approved policies are implemented.

The composition of Student Representative Council will be defined in the byelaws to enable it to respond to changes in the composition of the student body, but will begin with student representatives from all 17 academic departments, plus the chairs of the liberation campaigns and a postgraduate representative.

This is where the democratic voice will be enhanced in the Union's governance structures.

 

 

Subject to the approvals required from the membership, Board of Governors and the Charity Commission, and any minor amendments required, this is the draft constitution for Staffordshire University Students Union, incorporated as a CIO.

It is based on the Model CIO Constitution developed for Students Unions by BWB and approved by the Charity Commission

Draft CIO constitution