Placeholder Photo

A Day In The Life Of An SU President: A meeting with the local council  

Tables in a circle, fluorescent white lights, reps from both universities Student Unions, and two councillors. Welcome to a meeting with SU Officers and Bath’s local government!

Before the meeting, some of the officers expressed their nerves about the discussion. I don’t know if you, dear reader,  have interacted with local politicians. But, if you haven’t, I will clarify why our scepticism was well grounded. It wasn’t because of the characters who we were sitting down with in Dartmouth Avenue’s cabin, but because navigating meetings of this sort is the most challenging but regular aspect of our jobs. Of course, this is just one opinion and a strong one at that, but it’s how I feel about these formal encounters. 

It isn’t the people in our meetings that make the experience uncomfortable. After all, both Kevin Guy and Matt McCabe were fulfilling their roles as local representatives – they were willing to listen to our concerns and discuss ideal outcomes for us. They even dutifully wrote down a few notes and a list of actions to take. Whether or not these actions are ever seen through or how seriously our requests are taken, I can’t say. We always just hope for the best.

We don’t go into these meetings alone either! Both SUs were represented by permanent staff (in both cases the deputy chief executive was present, and our Head of Voice and Student Engagement was there as well). We also had the manager of the Student Community Partnership (SCP) to organise the meeting, and one more SCP member there to take notes. On the officer side, Hanna (our community officer), Laura (vice president for welfare and community in Bath Spa), and Jas (president of Bath Spa) were all there with me.

It isn’t the agenda of the meetings which makes them so anxiety-inducing. For this one, the items to discuss were relatively straightforward (let me clarify that the council members were not aware of the specifics of the agenda, as we had informally discussed it amongst the SUs and the SCP). After careful consideration of how we wanted to spend our very short 60 minutes with them, we landed on a short but strong list: the lack of engagement by students in council activities; the possibility of creating a sort of student-councillor forum (to address the previous point); the issue with voter registration and the council’s incapacity to register students to vote (granted they opt-in when registering to the university for their information to be shared); and cost of living, focusing on how other local councils had supported their residents but ours hadn’t (at least, had not supported students). 

Can you imagine how stressed I felt about chairing this meeting and ensuring we covered all the topics in 60 minutes? 

But again, that wasn’t what worried us. 

The hard and dreaded fact about these meetings is that those short 60 minutes can’t have as much impact as we would want them to have on our students’ lives. We take a lot of time out of our schedules to set up meetings with the people who can help improve students’ lives. We then spend copious amounts of time (sometimes outside the usual 9-5 schedule) trying to decide what we want to bring up in the meetings and obtaining the necessary evidence. Some of us have sleepless nights anticipating the meetings, dreading that the outcome will not be what we hoped. 

I guess it’s up to you to decide if the outcome of this meeting should make us, your student representatives, feel as if we’ve done our jobs well.

Concretely, the councillors left the room with two actions. The first was around voter registration: they committed to going away and talking to the relevant staff members in the council to discuss the capacity issue and how to address it. In the two weeks that have gone by since the meeting, we are aware that a first meeting was held internally in the council, and that steps are being taken to proceed toward universities offering opt-in voter registration policies for students. I think this is a success! I’ll admit, I won’t feel completely satisfied until I see that tick box at the bottom of a student’s registration form to share their details with the council to register them as voters. But this might speak more about my personal views rather than any reasonable ones. 

The second action was about creating a student/councillors’ forum. Kevin originally suggested we run a welcome to Bath event at the beginning of the year to give students a chance to engage with the local council from the start of their university degree. I made it clear that though this sounded like a good idea, it wasn’t what we were asking for. We wanted students to feel and be treated as residents. We want them to have the opportunity to challenge their local councillors, ask them questions, and keep them accountable. This action, I think, was left a bit in the air. I’ve never been quite satisfied with someone saying they’ll have a think and get back to us.

So, 60 minutes went by (though it felt like 600), we took the ceremonial picture, I politically shook both of their hands, and the whole thing was over. I always feel a bit of a sour aftertaste and ask myself, ‘Was this really worth all that stress?’. 

I’m not coming here for an answer to that question. 

I was elected to represent students and these meetings come with the job. 

I just wanted to reflect on this meeting. I wanted to give you an honest description of what these encounters look like and how they feel, and to assure you that we enter them with the best of intentions. At least, those were all the things I was telling myself as I walked out of the Cabin on Dartmouth Avenue and into the drizzling Bath sky, ready to go home after another day in the life of an SU officer. 

Latest from News