A stunning statement has been released by Lancaster University Students' Union (LUSU) in response to a student petition calling for a Vote of No Confidence (VNC) in external trustee Graeme Osborn.
The statement has put LUSU in direct opposition to Charity Commission guidance quoted in the petition, which they have entirely rejected. The statement has also advised students not to sign the petition, while also saying they would not comment on it.
The statement in full:
We are extremely disappointed in the tone and content of the VNC relating to Graeme Osborn, given all the hard work he has put in, on an entirely voluntary basis, for the benefit of students during his tenure as vice-chair of the Trustee Board. We reject the allegations made entirely. Graeme retains the full confidence of his fellow board members including all student officers who have worked closely with him and value his support and guidance. The matter is now ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment whilst the democratic process is ongoing.
Meanwhile, the petition has been covered by other student media, including SCAN and The Tab. The petition itself is approaching 60 signatures at the time of writing, which is roughly 20% of signatures required before the VNC can go to a referendum.
It is unclear from the statement what precisely is being rejected by LUSU. Of the points discussed in the petition, many are factual and evidence-based. For instance, it is true that the unredacted minutes and reports relating to the Sugarhouse Scandal have not yet been released, and that Professor Chetwynd, the new external trustee, is a former senior University manager.
Or is it the case that LUSU disagrees with the Charity Commission guidance that Trustees should be able to explain the decision-making processes even when there is merely the perception of a conflict of interest? Or that they disagree with the Charity Commission document on students' unions which says an all-member vote can bind the Trustees?
It is possible that trust in Mr Osborn and the Trustee Board would be higher if they did not actively resist any effort to improve the transparency of the institution. Not only has Mr Osborn resisted the implementation of livestreaming, he appears to be anathema to the notion of having press and public observers in meetings who can be asked to leave the room if a confidential item is being discussed, as was suggested during the AGM. Meeting agendas are not published prior to meetings, minutes are often delayed by six months or longer, and they are sparse on detail after their publication. This is to say nothing of the various sub-committees of the Trustee Board, such as the Governance sub-committee Mr Osborn chairs. LUSU members are not even privy to who sits on these sub-committees, never mind what they discuss.
The fact that LUSU is as transparent as a brick wall would come as a shock to those who have read the Select Committee on Charities' 2017 report "Stronger charities for a stronger society", which apparently LUSU hasn't:
Accountability and transparency are essential for charities to ensure they function properly, deliver for their beneficiaries and retain the trust of the public. In order to respond to the greater expectations upon them, charities need to operate with a presumption of openness.
It is true that Mr Osborn is a volunteer, only remunerated for his expenses, and Spineless is sure that the student body is grateful for his many thankless hours spent preparing for and attending Trustee Board meetings over the years. However, Spineless also believes that recent months have indicated that Mr Osborn is not an appropriate trustee for a students' union, and the petition text sets out this case in significant detail. It is our editorial belief that these two positions are not in conflict. We also do not believe that the petition is setting out the case Mr Osborn is unfit to be a trustee of any charity, or governor of any school, merely that he is not fit to serve on the LUSU Trustee Board.
The petition of no confidence can be signed here. You must be signed into the website to sign it.
Editors' note: About 15 minutes after this article was published, Graeme Osborn issued a statement in response to the petition, which has been published in full by SCAN. The statement can be read here. Spineless will be covering the response in due course.