STAR’s Laura Smith gives her view on the new catering proposal.
At the January session of Guild Council, the Liberty administration proposed a dot point “business case” which would allow a handpicked private caterer to take over services previously provided by the Guild. Both the proposal itself and the way in which Liberty have handled the matter deserve skepticism and scrutiny from all students.
Let’s start by getting one thing straight: opposition to this half-baked plan isn’t merely about blocking any attempt by Liberty to introduce privatised catering into Guild spaces. It has been well established across Australia that the selling off of student services results in negative effects on the viability of student-run guilds. Privatising these services drastically affects the ability of such organizations to provide advocacy and club-support services that are necessary for a vibrant campus culture, such as the one at UWA.
It should be acknowledged that this was a major election plank of the current Liberty administration. That is no excuse, however, for the actions of Liberty in trying to push this proposal through without allowing for proper scrutiny by the supreme governing body of the Guild: the Guild Council. In January’s meeting it became clear that steps to implement the privatisation of the Refresh Bar had already been taken without consultation with the Council. Rather, Liberty President Matthew McKenzie appears to have taken it upon himself to essentially secure a “mates rates” deal with local business Rocketfuel. We should ask ourselves: why is it okay for McKenzie to play into the hands of the first company that approaches the Guild with a business proposal? Surely a project that seeks to bring capitalism to campus catering should allow for a tender process to select the “preferred” operator? How do we know that students are getting the best deal and value for their money?
The question arises: what is the Liberty administration’s real concern? Ensuring the provision of exceptional support and services to students? Or is it simply trying to make their stamp on campus, rushing through an election promise by playing into the hands of a local company? One would say that it appears Liberty have taken the easiest option, meeting with the requests of Rocketfuel, rather than first and foremost considering the needs and welfare of students. After all – McKenzie likes to regularly remind us that we are “here for the students”, right?
All of this comes before we even consider the feasibility of the “business case” that was put before Guild Council in January. The document, which proposes that “this Council approve the business case for the independent catering trial”, is only three pages in length, composed mainly of dot points and in my opinion lacks the necessary components of a viable business “trial”. Perhaps the most striking flaw of the business case is its failure to identify Key Performance Indicators to provide a benchmark for success and failure. This crucial element appears to have been completely overlooked by the Liberty administration in their rushed attempts to secure an election promise. It did not, however, go unnoticed by STAR’s councillors. When asked by STAR at the January Council meeting what the purpose of a trial would be and how it would be determined whether such a trial was a successful one, McKenzie simply replied that it would be up to the individual councillor to decide. I do not believe that it is okay for the viability of a business to be determined subjectively. Rather, whether a trial has been successful should be evaluated empirically and include consideration of profits from sales, cost of goods sold, productivity, rental profit, student satisfaction and whether the outlet contributes to the atmosphere and ethos of the UWA Guild.
One thing is for sure: if the Liberty administration wishes to undertake such a significant change to Guild catering, then they must ensure they do so correctly and in accordance with sound business modelling. STAR will be seeking to ensure that Liberty are kept accountable for their actions and that their promise of transparency is adhered to throughout their administration.
Laura Smith is a Guild Councillor for STAR in 2012.