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Student-Staff Send Letter Criticising “Out of Touch” KCLSU for Price Hikes

Vault interior
Image courtesy of Kayla Rahaman

Around 20 King’s College London Students’ Union (KCLSU) staff members have co-signed a letter which asks the Union to reconsider price rises during the cost-of-living crisis.

The students, who work in hospitality at The Vault, The Shack, Guy’s Bar and The Shed, recognise the Union’s charitable mission and state that “as more and more students feel the crunch”, the decision to raise prices does not “share this vision of prioritising students”.

The letter states that the KCLSU should reverse its decision to raise prices based on the negative consequences that student-staff are seeing in the student body.

“In summary, we are asking as both staff of the Student Union and as students at this university, that KCLSU reconsider its price raises. KCLSU strives to be ‘a place where everyone has the opportunity to thrive’, yet has increased prices for the second time in an academic year, while both student staff and student customers face financial hardship. This is unacceptable.”

Student-staff open letter

The student-staff argue that the post-Covid bounce-back means that some venues are doing “better than ever”, questioning why higher attendance and revenues would mean that prices have to rise too.

However, Roar understands that KCLSU’s outlets are currently loss-making for the Union. For example, the decision to reduce opening hours for Guy’s Bar was due to an unsustainably low take at non-peak times.

The Union state that prices rose for a second time during this academic year because of the high level of ‘economic volatility’.

“These increases were driven by the need to ensure our cafés & bars become financially sustainable… we are actively trying to position all of our outlets into financial breakeven to help secure their long-term future. The cost-of-living crisis has impacted all of us, including rises in operating costs. Consequently, difficult decisions have had to be made. Value for money is a key driver in any decision making, but with significant supplier price increases, as well as increasing wage costs, we must pass on some of these additional costs to the end consumer. To not do so would leave us in a precarious position and jeopardise the long-term future of our popular venues.”

KCLSU spokesperson

According to figures seen by Roar, over this academic year, The Shack has:

  • raised the price of 20 hot drinks and lowered 6 (average £2.41 to £2.48)
  • raised the price of 28 snacks and lowered 3 (average £1.62 to £1.77)
  • raised the price of all 13 soft drinks (average £1.32 to £1.50)
  • raised the price of all 37 refrigerated meals and sides (average £4.23 to £4.50)

The Vault has:

  • raised the price of 21 beers & ciders and lowered 1 (average £4.33 to £4.61)
  • raised the price of 8 alcohol-free drinks and lowered 1 (average £3.52 to £3.71)
  • raised the price of 24 soft drinks & mixers and lowered 3 (average £1.76 to £1.96)
  • raised the price of 97 cocktails, shots & similar and lowered 15 (average £4.52 to £4.97)
  • raised the price of 9 wines (average £9.41 to £9.44)

No equivalent data is available for Guy’s venues.

It is difficult to further assess the Union’s argument about loss-making, as the most recent KCLSU Annual Report is from 2021/22. This means that the latest financial information available to students graduating from a three-year course this summer relates to the SU’s performance in their first year of study.

The Union reiterated to Roar that all profits that they do make from their commercial venues are reinvested back into the student experience.

“Although we are a not-for-profit charity that does not mean that the charity should bail out our commercial outlets. In fact, it should be the other way around, with our outlets creating some profit to help the charity out – the same business model used in charity shops on the high street. It’s worth reiterating:  any profit we do make goes back into the charitable aims of the organisation – enhancing student experience. Nobody within the union personally profits from this and any decisions are always made with the absolute best intentions to serve our students in the best possible manner given the challenges we face.”

KCLSU spokesperson

The student-staff also criticise the KCLSU for their working practices, citing busier venues and fewer available shifts. They argue that the anonymity of administrators in the SU has led to these conditions.

“It is us, the student staff, who have to tell students who can’t afford any other venue that our prices have gone up, who face the student body while anonymous leaders look at numbers at home or in a quiet office. We wonder why should the Union ask us to work harder, to charge our fellow students more, while we are financially worse-off than ever due to this price rise?”

Student-staff open letter

Roar understands that KCLSU do intend to raise student-staff wages in the coming month to align with the hike in the London Living Wage (LLW). However, this decision has not yet been communicated to student-staff.

The KCLSU spokesperson told Roar that they were “happy to share insight with our outlet teams… We are always grateful to work with a team who is so engaged with what we do and even though there may be a difference in viewpoints on the matter we thank everyone for taking the time to prepare the letter in raising their concerns.”

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