Bookshop faces cuts to hours and budget as staff raise fears of closure

Ruairí Casey

Deputy News Editor

Illustration: Éna Brennan

The Students’ Union bookshop faces closure unless it can justify its existence, according to the Students’ Union president, Rory Dunne, who held a meeting with staff on Tuesday 23rd October.

The meeting, attended by two members of the co-operative that operates the bookshop, as well as Mr Dunne and the Students’ Union’s finance and services officer, Jack Leahy, established that the bookshop faced closure unless certain financial problems were remedied.

According to bookshop co-op member Fergus McKeown, Mr Dunne said that the room occupied by the bookshop on the first floor of House Six could be put to “better use” as an office or meeting-room for student welfare.

Trinity News understands that Mr Dunne’s actions are widely unpopular among members of the bookshop co-op, following cuts to opening hours and the bookshop budget.

Speaking to Trinity News, Mr McKeown criticised Mr Dunne, referring to the commitment to fighting cuts which is mentioned in Mr Dunne’s profile on the union’s website. This profile states that the president’s role includes “maintaining and improving union services”, and affirms the notion that the union aims to “ensure that college cutbacks don’t affect student services”.

Mr McKeown said that this was “clearly not the case” and called the cutback “needless”, since the bookshop remained profitable.

The bookshop co-op member added that the meeting followed a “substantial” reduction in the shop’s budget, stemming from the elimination of funds for the purchase of non-academic books.

Mr McKeown further rejected suggestion that the space could be better used as a welfare office on the grounds that the bookshop’s location is in a public thoroughfare and lacks privacy.

Two weeks ago, Trinity News reported that the opening hours had been reduced from 9am-5.30pm to 12pm-3pm. At the time, Mr Dunne stated that changes were made to “guarantee that the bookshop remains both viable and sustainable”.

For comparison, the bookshop of the students’ union of University College Dublin is open from 10am-6pm, over twice as long as the new hours in Trinity. The equivalent bookshop in University College Cork is open for five-and-a-half hours.

Mr Dunne also said that “we want to continue to provide both a book buying and book selling facility to students.”

In correspondence with Trinity News on Saturday 27th October, Mr Dunne said that it was “disappointing” that co-op staff felt that the “entire meeting” was about closing the bookshop. He said that he “met with representatives of all SU services to discuss the development of strategic plans so that we can work towards guaranteeing [their] viability”.

Speaking on the possibility of the space currently occupied by the bookshop going to other Students’ Union uses in future, Dunne said: “We have an obligation to ensure that all of our resources are managed as effectively as possible on behalf of students.

“In TCD, space can be as crucial and scarce a resource as any. In this regard, we must ensure that our use of space is as efficient as possible when considering how best we serve our members.”

The Students’ Union president went on to say that the discussion, which lasted one hour, focused on “the challenges facing the bookshop and the best way of overcoming these”.

The union informed the bookshop co-op that its hiring policies were no longer acceptable, as they did not accord with the 23rd mandate passed by the union’s Council in the 2011-12 academic year.

This new mandate stipulates: “Each vacancy in [the union’s] services is filled by a recruitment and interview panel of at least three people, namely the president, a president’s nominee and the service manager.”

The mandate, a revamp which will significantly alter the composition of Trinity’s co-ops, will also change the hiring policy at the Junior Common Room café in Goldsmith Hall.

A copy of the bookshop’s accounts obtained by Trinity News shows that the service cuts enforced by the Students’ Union come against a backdrop of steep decline in projected revenue for this academic year.

In the 2011-12 year, sales totalled €47,289, but €26,089 of this (55%) represented sales of laboratory coats and dissection kits. Sales of these items, which had subsidised book-buying by the bookshop and had buttressed its profit of €1,237 for 2012, were transferred to the Students’ Union general shop in the Hamilton Building this year.

Predicted sales for the 2012-13 year are €14,100, a 70% decrease on last year’s figure. This year’s predicted wage bill will be 43% lower than last year’s, however, on account of reduced opening hours. There will be no reduction in the number of people working at the bookshop.

Even with reduced wage expenses, the bookshop is still expected to end the year in deficit. Account predictions place the deficit between €366 and €1,366. This would continue a trend of waning profitability for the bookshop.

Last year’s profits of €1,237 represented a decline of 57% from the figures for the 2010-11 year. Nevertheless, Mr Dunne commented: “We are working to ensure that [a deficit] does not happen.”

Mr Dunne also noted that transferring sales of lab coats and dissection kits, which had been “one of the biggest profit drivers in the bookshop […] will undoubtedly result in a significant fall in revenue.” This, he said, would likely be coupled with a decrease in sales this year.