The Election Week Debates kicked off last night with the VP Activities Debate, featuring three candidates: Becca Hanley, Charlie Smee, and Alasdair Gibbs. Chaired by James Woolcock, the debate proved to be a relatively passive affair, with little tension visible between the three.
Smee opened proceedings with his one-minute speech, highlighting his promises of fair funding allocations, particularly among the Arts and XMedia groups/societies, and an efficient use of space. Gibbs meanwhile highlighted the notion that his manifesto was about the big impact of the promises he had created, whilst Hanley highlighted her experience working behind the A&V desk and the need to improve employability.
The first question put to the candidates was based around how they would improve and expand Refreshers, in order to make it a more integral part of the Exeter calendar. Hanley proposed to move the organisation dates forward, to ensure greater levels of organisation, a point which was agreed upon by Gibbs. Smee, whose lack of referral to Refreshers in his manifesto was noted, defined visibility as the main concern, and suggested creating specific days for societies based upon their type.
ExeFest’s future followed, with questions on how the candidates would oversee its continuation over the coming year. Gibbs proposed moving it off campus if it were to reach a certain size, in order to improve the quality of the event, whilst Smee urged the audience to see who the inaugural edition goes, but that it would be worth enlisting non-musical groups to exhibit and perform, to expand the appeal, and make it a general arts festival. Hanley, meanwhile, promised to use Tristan’s contacts to help obtain bigger and better acts, and get more societies involved.
When it came down to what the candidates hope they could improve upon in terms of strengths, Smee highlighted communication as being a priority, in order to obtain the necessary numbers to sustain interest. Gibbs went for space, and promised to improve the room booking system to make it easier to find available space, whilst Hanley called for a strong voice for the recognition of society involvement, and rewards to be introduced alongside the system to further promote involvement.
A buzzer round followed, which saw Gibbs take the first point, thanks to his close guess when it came to the amount of money RAG had raised in the past year (£82,000). He scored a second point by correctly providing the correct number of societies and student groups on campus (235). Hanley obtained two by identifying the biggest society on campus (BodySoc), and how many students are members of societies (11,000). Smee, meanwhile, scored a point through the number of students on a committee position (1,527).
The questions were then opened up to the floor, with Alasdair being required to defend the proposition to partially convert the Lemmy, whilst Smee was forced to answer how opening up the Great Hall would be both feasible and beneficial to students. Gibbs promised to take society concerns into account, whilst Smee confessed that he wasn’t aware of the new lease barring commercial use, but highlighted the ‘crisis’ facing study space.
Hanley meanwhile proposed using funding from the dormant society fund, which she claimed contained £21,000 of unused money, whilst also promising to revaluate the guild grant criteria, and re-allocate any money left over. Smee, meanwhile, called for a society audit to ensure that the money was spent sensibly, whilst Gibbs called for a fix to prevent the Lemmy from running on a deficit. Smee further highlighted how the Humanities department usually has money left over in its employability pot, and called for it to be used for academic societies.
Following this, Hanley was called out for the fact that the volunteering log already existed, but this was defended by her claim that it exists for those who ‘traditionally’ volunteer, and called for more people to be recognised for their work. Gibbs questioned its feasibility, owing to its difficulty to measure in terms of time and involvement, with Hanley retorting that it would be evidence-based, and that we should trust people on society committees.
The next question regarded democracy, with Gibbs calling the idea of a third referendum on NUS membership ‘absurd’, and said that, whilst the NUS was flawed, it would not be wise to leave. Smee seconded this, and called for greater clarity when it came to understanding the processes of referendums, and called for a reducing in vagueness. Hanley, meanwhile, called for clearer definitions of Sabbs and Representatives, and more transparency. Gibbs agreed, satiating that many do not know what the Guild does, and do not understand how it works.
Postgraduates and International Students were next on the agenda. Smee, as a Postgraduate, highlighted how necessary it was to work with the Postgraduate Society. Smee also called for a closer relationship with INTO. Hanley declared that she would work with the International Students Council to deliver change, as well as with the newly created Postgraduate Sabb roles. This was followed by a question on engagement, with Gibbs demanding more recognition for what students do, whilst Hanley called for a greater number of rewards for those who take the time to volunteer and do work outside of their degree.
Smee promised to deal with space by reexamining the way space is allocated, and stated that it was up to the Guild to decide in certain scenarios. Meanwhile, Gibbs complained about the length of time it takes for the Booking System to occasionally reply, whilst Hanley called for it to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. She further highlighted the need for certain buildings, such as Kay House, to be granted entitlement to certain societies.
The final question focused on employability. Hanley asked to “gameify” the process, and increased employability through extra-curricular methods. Gibbs called for the creation of an ‘Activist Academy’, to help share skills with fellow students ,whilst Smee criticised the speed of Activities & Volunteering, a point echoed by Gibbs, who chastised the quality of the Guild Website, a point echoed by Hanley.
The debate closed in essentially the same way that it started, mellow, pleasant, but not especially revealing about the differences between each candidate, and perhaps lacking in the radical nature of some of last year’s candidates. Nonetheless, each of them showed themselves to be experienced and confident enough to sustain the level of professionalism that students have come to expect.