Board Update to Assembly - inc. Officer neutrality

Please note, full Assembly papers, including the below, can be found on the Assembly pages here.


TO:                  Assembly                                                                               


FROM:            Kate McIntosh


RE:                  Board Report


DATE:             3 December 2019


Report from the Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees has not met since the last meeting of Assembly, but two Committees have convened for the first time, and the trustees’ report therefore gives Assembly insight into the discussions at these meetings.

People and Culture Committee

The People and Culture Committee met for the first time, and considered:

The Articles of Association; the trustees agreed to re-consider putting a proposal to amend the Articles of Association to referendum. The original case for reform was still valid, and more recently other matters had arisen which required reflection. The Board will therefore consider a proposal to amend the Articles at its January meeting.

The Elections Rules; the trustees considered a proposal from Assembly to amend the Elections Rules, and agreed to recommend the proposal to the University Secretary for her approval.

The trustees noted that the new Elections Rules were a clear improvement on the previous version but provisions were in tension with the existing Articles and Standing Orders. Article 4 provides that “If any dispute arises in relation to the interpretation of these articles or any of the Standing Orders it shall be resolved by the Board of Trustees.” People and Culture Committee were therefore of the view that:

  • All students, including Officers and trustees, were entitled to full participation in fair elections under rights protected by Article 15 and the Code of Practice.
  • New Rules 18 to 20 had the effect of requiring Officers and trustees to ‘remain neutral’ on the outcome of every election, and this was inconsistent with the rights guaranteed under Article 15
  • There is a reasonable interpretation that New Rules 18 to 20 frustrate the ability of Assembly to hold Officers to account under Article 94.7 as accountability questions asked to Officers would out of necessity be ruled out of order if an answer could influence democratic events.
  • Notwithstanding the supremacy of the Articles over the Standing Orders, granted under Article 57, the existing Standing Orders were also incompatible with any ‘neutrality’ requirement.
  • The practical reality of the Officers and trustees being ‘neutral’ for all times when a cross-campus election was underway (as described in New Rule 7) would mean that New Rules 18 to 20 would be in force for close to half of the academic year. This would significantly restrict the effectiveness of student representatives and frustrate much of Standing Order F, in particular F5 which provides for Officers to “promote and defend the rights of members and act in the best interest of the Union” and “uphold policy” “at all times” (italics added) and F5.14 which provides for the Officers to “[work] within the democratic structures to debate and discuss policies and issues and to implement policies”.


People and Culture Committee therefore agreed that New Rules 18 to 20 could have no effect and would not be enforced by the Returning Officer.

Finally, People and Culture Committee noted the Chief Executive’s Review and Objectives.

Fundraising Committee

The Fundraising Committee met for the first time, and considered:

DUCK development; including a report from the DUCK Chair of the success of student-led fundraising to date, and the plans for the year ahead.

Grant negotiation strategy; to support Durham SU in discussion with the University about continued funding for the students’ union.