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Exeposé at the Vice President Activities Debate

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Image credit: Alice Nicholson
Image credit: Alice Nicholson

Tonight saw the candidates for Vice President Welfare, Matthew Bate, Kit Fotheringham, Daniel Richards, Michael Smith, Douglas Statt
and Sam Woody come together for the XpressionFM Vice President Activities debate, chaired by Meg Drewett.

The first question of the debate asked: “What do you think is the greatest problem regarding society support and how would you solve it?

Matthew Bate began by stating that funding was the greatest problem regarding society support to be solved by a funding drive to raise £10,000. Daniel Richards countered by saying that funding was adequate but students were unaware of how to access it. Michael Smith raised the issue of the need for parity while Sam Wood returned to Richard’s point that funding was available but unused by students, suggesting automated systems as a help.

Doug Statt agreed saying that the current funding systems were too complex and time-consuming for society committees. Kit Fotheringham concluded the question but suggesting that work needs to happen on the A&V desk and that money needed to be directed in the right way.

Meg Drewett then directly addressed Matt: “Is publicity also an issue as other candidates say?

Matt Bate responded by saying that publicity was an issue but also a monetary increase was needed. He disagreed with earlier comments criticising the A&V desk saying the problem was the email system and announced his policy of 24 hour email response time.

Daniel Richards explained that the desk has already improved and that a maximum response of an indeterminate amount of time was already in place. Kit suggested not necessarily an email response needed but rather a receipt. Michael Smith suggested efficiency should be increased, and raised the issue of room bookings. Sam Wood continued this topic but saying that students needed assistance and an easier system. Michael Smith added that a diverse range of societies needed help including smaller societies.

The third question focused on manifesto aims: “Many of your manifestos mention needing to increase space, where is funding coming from?

Sam Wood suggested that a simpler room booking system could be introduced and that it should allow students to put in bids for certain rooms rather than being allocated them automatically. Matt Bate said there were plenty of good locations and suggested that reducing porters’ costs through negotiation at a high university could be a solution. Kit mentioned St Luke’s as a potential location and said that university’s are primarily academic spaces.

Who won the Vice President Activities debate?

  • Matthew Bate (28%, 58 Votes)
  • Michael Smith (28%, 57 Votes)
  • Sam Woody (19%, 38 Votes)
  • Doug Statt (10%, 21 Votes)
  • Dan Richards (10%, 20 Votes)
  • Kit Fotheringham (5%, 10 Votes)

Total Voters: 204

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The fourth question of the evening tackled the manifestos of the candidates directly. Although the term ‘Campuses’ has been removed from your job title, a lot of you have mentioned St Luke’s in your manifestos. How would you deal with St Luke’s integration?

Mike took the question first, claiming that the social side of societies was equally important to the members as the activities themselves. On a recent trip to the Cross Keys he found that it shut at six, he reasoned that it should remain open later so it can be used more socially.

Doug did not agree that St Luke’s was as dead as had been suggested, but he did agree that it was not the campus it used to be, he believed that the only thing stopping students from using it was its inaccessibility, societies should be given benefits and incentives for using St Luke’s facilities.

Sam Wood seemed to suggest that investing in St Luke’s was a waste of money, he claimed that opening the Cross Keys later for ten customers would make no difference, instead we should invest in a shuttle bus, similar to the Roccocco’s fun bus, to allow St Luke’s students to integrate in Lemmy Saturdays.

Kit Fotheringham quickly responded by saying this would centralise Streatham, it is better to diversify and encourage cultural societies, as well as sport’s societies, to use St Luke’s.

Dan Richards claimed there would always be difficulties in getting societies to move to St Luke’s, but with increasing student numbers it was essential to use their facilities.

Matt Bates revealed that there were in fact plans to refurbish cross keys, he also asked Sam where the money for a shuttle bus would come from, instead proposing a ‘Boris bike’ scheme to decrease transport time between the campuses.

Sam responded that the money could come from new Guild services in the refurbishment of Devonshire House, such as a hairdresser.

This point sparked a lively debate, with Meg asking: would funding from the hairdressers be marked for a shuttle bus to the Lemmy, and would the hairdressers impact on society space?

Sam clarified that whilst the money would go back into the Guild it could be used on a wide range of facilities, he claimed that Cardiff’s hairdressers one of their most profitable services.

Doug Statt, keen to return to the issue of St Luke’s claimed that a shuttle bus was not pressing and that Boris Bikes could indeed be a harmful idea after a Saturday Lemmy. He claimed that the Streatham attitude to St Luke’s was patronising, claiming that it is not as far away as we think, the problem comes from people who live between Streatham and St Luke’s choosing to visit Streatham predominantly.

Dan Richards thought the idea of a hairdresser on campus was laughable, he saw it as a waste of space, an unnecessary cost and thought it would be underused, as students will tend to already have a favourite hairdresser in Exeter.

Matt Bates claimed that the issue faced by St Luke’s students was not access to the Lemmy, but getting to lectures on weekdays. He claims to be in touch with Stagecoach to reduce costs of transport for St Luke’s students.

Whilst Sam Wood received a lot of flack for the hairdresser idea, he wished to reiterate that at least he was opening conversation about how the new retail space in Devonshire House should be used, he felt it was important that students have a say in this issue.

Meg Drewett then turned to the audience to begin audience questions. Nicholas ‘Welshy’ Davies, former Guild President 2012-13, asked: “£36,000 to students. £20,000 to societies. £16,000 student media. Is that a fair distribution of funds and do you have a better way of allocating that funding?

Doug Statt went first, replying that Xmedia involves high quality, expensive equipment and is vital to the university. Kit suggested that funding be looked at on a case-by-case basis, saying that the benefit to the student was the most important aspect. Michael Smith agreed saying that it wasn’t about the financial benefit to students, but the experience and returned to his earlier point about the importance of parity in society funding.

Matt Bate agreed saying there were many necessary costs in Xmedia and that quality should not lessened as a result of funds. Dan Richards praised the A&V desk and admitted that while funding may favour the media, the £20,000 for other societies was adequate. Sam Wood disagreed entirely with the others saying that media funding was unfair and stifled competition. He suggested other events as a way to gain funding.

The next audience question came from current Participation and Campuses Sabb, Jack Curtis-Randall, he asked, “a large part of your job will be democracy, campaigns and elections, especially with the 2015 general election, how will you make sure students get involved with these issues?”

Dan Richards, called for a renovation of the ‘Have Your Say’ as he sees the current state of campaigning as ‘shambolic’. He went so far as to say Blurred Lines turned students off democracy. His solution was to forge links with the local community and with local MPs to engage students in politics.

Matt Bates wanted to work on a smaller scale, prioritising local council elections as they have a greater impact on students, due to housing caps. On the Blurred Lines debate he said simplicity is key for the future, a simple Yes/No structure would make the debate more accessible for students.

It was flyering that angered Sam Woody, he believes that this is a waste of paper which disengages students. Doug Statt blamed XMedia for the lack of interest in the Blurred Lines debate, he feels that it is their responsibility to spread awareness of Guild campaigns.

Kit Fotheringham called for a return to the Weekly Open Forums, combined with use of the screens in the Kitchen Café and a more usable website to publicise ongoing debates to students. He made it clear that he disagreed with Sam Wood’s no-flyering policy, as it is a valuable resource for student publicity.

Mike saw the only issue as a lack of knowledge in societies, arguing they have the resources to make changes they just are not aware of their power. Debate ranged around the issue of flyering and Sam Woody clarified that it was only in campaign week that he would ban it.

Another audience question tackled diversity in societies asking, “As a trans and disabled person, I think inclusivity is a much bigger issue than funding. How would you tackle issues of inclusion?

Kit Fotheringham said inclusivity was the way forward and that Exeter generally did it well but society training was needed. Michael Smith brought up the upcoming Diversity Month and stated that there needed to be a greater platform for a diverse range of student voices. Matt Bate suggested having student groups who represent minority group provide a service to help understand. Sam Wood said that in his society experience, societies have been as inclusive as possible.

The audience member responded saying, “As trans man, I’ve had huge number of issues, across many societies. LGBTQ has been a safe space, but it shouldn’t be the only one. There’s not enough support for all minorities, it’s not just a welfare issue but societies issue.

Doug Statt reiterated an earlier point of Kit’s that society training should be implemented and that it was a matter of stopping prejudice.

The next question took the panel by surprise as The RAG president directly asked, “How will you maintain and increase the support RAG and CA already have?”

Matt Bates was quick to encourage RAG and CA to look externally for their funding, with a greater base of funding and sponsorship, opportunities for employability and internships can be created.

In his view, Dan Richards suggested that very little needed to be changed for the two large societies. He did not believe that his role was to dictate to RAG and CA as they run well by themselves.

Mike Smith mistakenly suggested that RAG and CA needed less support, an idea rejected by the questioner, he recovered well however, suggesting that his main role would be to get people excited by volunteering and the opportunities it can bring.

Radically, Sam Wood called for an ‘opt in’ system for RAG, suggesting that all fresher’s should be automatically made members of RAG. This would increase both revenue and participation for the society.

Doug Statt sees both CA and RAG as daunting, committee led societies which may exclude freshers, he proposed a central Volunteering List, from which all charitable societies can draw volunteers for their projects.

Kit Fotheringham echoed Dan Richard’s championing of both societies, claiming his responsibility would be to ‘sing their praises’ and spread the message to the local community.

Societies’ Officer, Anna Collin then asked the candidates what the most pressing issue was out of society funding, society support and room booking.

Doug, Sam, Matt and Dan all stated support for societies, with Matt also mentioning space for members. Michael stated room booking services as they would otherwise prevent a society from operating and was joined by Kit in this decision.

Meg Drewett ended the debate by asking for the candidates’ 30 second summations. Sam stated that he would put a significant amount of work into what the students want and concluded with his slogan, “to activities and beyond.” Mike said that he would develop the Guild’s current activities, streamline systems, protect the arts, diversify campus life and make sure societies did not lose spaces.

Matt returned to his opening comments about funding being an issue, to be increased through alumni, and to make allocation fair for small societies. He pledged to visit every society during his tenure as VP Activities. Kit said that growth was needed, especially in society space. He wanted to improve timing and free up timetables for society activities. Doug wanted to get people involved, bring back the Refresh fair and allow students to sample societies with a society showcase and demo other societies. Dan ended the summations by praising the Guild’s improved services, wanting to publicise it to students, increase local community engagement and develop the role into something more positive.

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Olivia Luder, Online Editor and James Smurthwaite, Online Screen Editor

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