We were appointment by The London School of Economics Students’ Union and Students’ Union for the University of the Arts, London to provide ongoing finance support, with Partner Peter Greaney acting as Finance Director and providing Finance Manager services. LSEUSU and SUARTS are charitable organisations which provide representation and support to the students of their respective universities. The Unions have a shared administrative function, including Finance.
Due to issues with a previous outsourced accounting provider, the Unions decided in 2011 to move from a fully outsourced arrangement to an in-house solution, with strategic and technical support provided by Counterculture.
The Unions required initial support to enact this change, then ongoing strategic and technical support to help oversee the smooth operation of their finances – with an emphasised need for production of regular and reliable financial information. The overall objective was then to help the Unions move onto a stronger financial footing, using better financial information to support decision making.
Peter Greaney set up a new finance system and processes: this involved migration of financial information to the new system, recruitment of new team members and set-up of a new reporting system (Sage). Training was also provided for finance team members and budget holders to ensure that strong delegated financial management processes were introduced within the organisations.
Peter has since provided ongoing external Finance Director -level support to the organisations on a day per week basis. This has included strategic financial planning, oversight of the finance team, accounting technical support and ensuring regular financial reporting to different stakeholders, including Trustees.
As part of its contract, Counterculture also provides part-time technical accounting support to the Unions, via Sherine Robin (an experienced part-qualified accountant). Peter and Sherine work closely with in-house finance team members, who range from a fully-qualified Finance Manager to junior staff, including apprentices.
During its engagement, Counterculture has provided additional focused areas of support. This has included temporary back-filling for the Finance Manager post, a review of commercial activities and introduction of new VAT processes and systems.
Since working with Counterculture, the Unions have received regular management accounts in line with their information needs, including separate reports for clubs and societies. Through receipt of this information, coupled with the strategic support and training provided by Counterculture, the Unions have been able to plan and manage their activities with more clarity and confidence.
In addition to receiving a positive audit opinion on their accounts the Unions has been able to withstand internal audit and two HMRC inspections. They have, critically overall, also both been able to achieve a stable level of reserves.
As a result, the Unions have been able to communicate a clearer, and more positive financial picture to their key funders (the respective Universities). They, in turn, have provided positive comment and have provided additional investment and support, including a fantastic new student centre with new facilities (including a gym) at LSE.
The finance teams have been able to handle a significant level of growth in financial activity associated with this increased investment, without a need for additional resources within the team. This has helped to ensure a level of financial support to the Unions which is efficient (as well as resilient), allowing reinvestment in student services.
“Counterculture and specifically Peter and Sherine have provided invaluable stability for our organisations. After initial set up, they have overseen processes when things have been going smoothly and really stepped in when needed such as when key staff have left. The regular reporting has helped significantly with improvements in financial performance of both Unions and as such played a key role in our development of much stronger relationships with the respective Universities.”
Jarlath O’Hara (Deputy Chief Executive of LSE Students’ Union and Students Union for the University of the Arts).