Liberty’s Ben Watson discusses election-winning policy.
The Guild is finally taking action on what has been one of the most contentious and talked about electoral issues at UWA for the past three years. Each side has made their case and the voters have heard all the lines before. In the 2011 Guild elections, the voting public of UWA made a clear choice—they voted overwhelmingly for Liberty candidates. It has been no secret that Liberty, since its origin, has been the party committed to fighting for independent food on campus. The party and the policy are inextricably linked in the minds of UWA students. So, when voters decided that it was time for a new Guild, they gave a clear mandate to the new Liberty Guild to enact its signature policy.
Students had grown tired of promises to improve Guild-run catering and hollow policies of aesthetic refurbishment. The voters of UWA have expressed a desire for a Guild that is willing to explore alternative options, one that is willing to try new ways to bring them higher quality services. Independent food is just that—a new way of thinking about providing higher quality food to students at better prices. Voters have sent a clear message that the status quo in regards to food was not good enough. There is a clear electoral mandate for the enactment of independent food.
Put simply, independent food is a win for students. The introduction of independent food vendors breaks Guild catering’s monopoly over food and drink on campus. By forcing Guild catering to compete with any new business, then new businesses to compete with one another for students’ custom, students will find businesses (including Guild catering) striving to provide the best value for money. Greater choices, and better quality food and drink will be the result.
Guild catering has been struggling to provide the quality of food that students want at prices they are willing to pay, forcing many to seek alternatives off campus, such as at Broadway. By driving students off campus to eat, the Guild is loosing an opportunity to raise money that could be put back into student services. Far from the tired argument of the proponents of the status quo that “the money from Guild catering goes directly back into students services,” more money will be made available for things such as club and FacSoc grants, student welfare, and educational advocacy once independent food is introduced. Take for example the REFresh bar, which in 2011 made a $17 000 profit. Early projections of how much the Guild could make off a rental agreement for this area are more than triple the profit from the current outlet. That means more money that the Guild can spend on providing services to members. Imagine if this is replicated across campus… not only will students have more food and drink options, and enhanced competition driving down prices, the students will also benefit from the Guild’s strengthened financial position, enabling them to contribute more to student services across the board.
It has also been highlighted that there are not enough casual employment opportunities for students on campus. The introduction of independent food will change this. Currently, Guild Catering only employs less than five students across its outlets. More food outlets looking for staff will provide students with many more employment options. This is a factor that can be negotiated into any rental contracts between the Guild and new outlets.
For many years now, the monopoly of Guild Catering over food and drink on campus has not served students well. They have been forced to pay higher prices than they should and have had limited choice. This is the case when Guild Catering has no competitive necessity to do better for students. Introducing independent food and drink on campus will provide Guild members with the high quality they deserve: they will have more good quality food and drink options at lower prices. In addition to better food and drink, the Guild will be in a better financial position due to rental agreements and more able to fund clubs and societies and welfare initiatives. I have no doubt that the trial approved by Guild Council on the 1st of February will be a success, and its success will only make the benefits of independent food harder to ignore for its detractors. Independent food will allow the Guild to not only nourish students stomachs, but nourish the rest of their needs at university, including welfare and social needs. In the end, isn’t that what the Guild is here for?
Independent food is the change that UWA students voted for, and it is the change that they want to see.
Ben Watson is the 2012 UWA Student Guild Vice-President and Environment Officer.