UCD Students’ Union technically used to be called ‘Big Toe Limited’. Yes, that’s right. The Union we know and love so dearly was named after a big fat toe. But how? When? And why?!
Back in 2012, the Union were going through some financial issues. They accumulated a debt of €1.4 million over a four-year period, with an internal investigation at the time revealing that the Union had been in serious financial difficulty since at least 2007. It took a loan of almost €1 million from the university to keep the Union afloat. At one point, they owed almost €250,000 to the Union of Students in Ireland alone.
In order to put formal corporate structures in place, and to get a firm grip on the large debt, the Union took the decision to consolidate, making themselves a private limited company. This is where Big Toe comes in. Sometimes when a group doesn’t have enough time to make a company, or they don’t want to go through the hassle, they’ll just buy an existing company with no previous activity – a ‘shelf’ company.
The Union purchased Big Toe Limited in April 2012, and changed the name on June 27th that year, meaning UCD Students’ Union, now UCDSU Commercial Services Ltd, was called Big Toe Ltd for about 2-3 months. Madness.
UCDSU Limited By Guarantee, which the College Tribune understands to have been set up around the same time, is the sole shareholder of UCDSU Commercial Services Ltd. The companies split financial activities between general union activities and shop activities, respectively.
A spokesperson for UCD Students’ Union explained in a statement to The College Tribune: “Big Toe Ltd. was a shelf company acquired when the union needed to have a company quickly when it was incorporating. Big Toe Limited had no activities prior to being acquired. It was dormant.”
The spokesperson continued: “The Union incorporated it’s activities to put formal corporate structures in place which had been lacking up until that point in time and which had resulted in significant financial losses being incurred ( > 1m) and to facilitate borrowings to clear debts incurred.”
A shelf, ‘off-the-shelf’ or ‘ready-made’, company is a corporate entity that has been set up by someone else and held until it is sold. Once the sale goes through, the ownership is transferred. The new owner can then rename the company and use it as they wish. This is a common service in Ireland; you can purchase a shelf company from as little as €149. Shelf companies are frequently bought to save time establishing one from new, to take part in contract bidding as the entity is seen as ‘new’ or to give the appearance of longevity (since the entity was technically founded long ago).
According to their records, the SU has been in good financial standing in recent years, previously budgeting closing reserves of almost €80,000 by June 2020. Last year, the SU received €295,000 in income from their shops on campus and have budgeted for an income of €175,000 this year, although the latter figure is likely to be significantly lower than expected. Following financial strain stemming from the university closure, and a sudden discontinuance in shop income since March 12th, it is clear that the SU will experience prolonged financial difficulties, not unlike many Irish businesses.
Conor Capplis – Editor
Alex Lohier – Deputy Editor