Analysis: TCDSU deficit marks a return to financial uncertainty

The optimism that followed last year’s surplus has been upended by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent College closure

Yesterday’s report that Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) has recorded a deficit of almost €50,000 has not come as a surprise. With most students off campus for the final months of the 2019/20 year, income streams such as the SU shops were bound to suffer. The closure of college due to Covid 19 has placed the union back in a state of financial uncertainty, following an optimistic report last year.

Despite unprecedented circumstances, this is not the most dramatic deficit the Union has recorded in recent years. In the 2017/18 year it reported a deficit of 70,622. Described as “extraordinary” by then TCDSU President Shane De Rís, this loss was attributed to a number of factors. The Repeal the 8th and Take Back Trinity campaigns combined to dramatically increase the SU’s campaigns spending to just under €45,000. Refurbishment work on the SU shop in the Hamilton building cost a further €17,589, while both of the SU shops suffered losses in income from closures due to Hurricane Ophelia and the March snowstorm. While the loss in 2018 was exacerbated by extraordinary circumstances, it marked the third successive deficit for the SU. This led to  fears of an audit of the SU’s finances. De Rís said at the time that an audit could pose an “extreme risk” to TCDSU’s financial independence. Though this year’s deficit is sizeable, it is unlikely that any audit will take place, as the reason for the deficit is clear.

Last year’s report represented a step in the right direction with the SU recording a surplus of €32,522. This was largely attributed to an increase to the capitation grant from College, a rise in “click income” from online advertising, and increased Ents income. This surplus will have given TCDSU a boost that will somewhat ease the impact of this year’s deficit. 

Whereas 2018’s deficit was followed by a significant surplus, next year’s report is unlikely to represent such an improvement. With this year’s report accounting for the year ending June 2020, only the initial three months of college closure are represented. There has been no indication from College that there will be a large scale return to campus before June 2021, meaning Covid measures will have affected the SU’s finances for the duration of the financial year. 

The SU’s expenditure this year did not fall significantly in relation to its income. In an effort to lower expenditure the SU shops are planning to apply for relief on rental and service charges. The SU’s report says that it will be able to “absorb the shock and losses” brought on by the pandemic. However, it is unclear how long TCDSU will be able to continue operating at a loss as Covid-19 closures roll over into next year.  The Treasurer’s report following the 2018 deficit warned that changes had to be made to the way the SU’s finances are operated, saying: “The SU can sustain a loss making situation for one or two more years. It must use this time to get a grip on its finances.”

Patrick Coyle

Patrick Coyle is a News Analysis Editor for Trinity News, and a Junior Sophister student of English Literature and Spanish.