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Welcome to UNICUS

The UNICUS outlets form part of the overall commercial offering provided by the University’s withUS portfolio. UNICUS is a wholly owned subsidiary company of the University of Sheffield and was formed in July 2012 as Sheffield Trading Services Ltd, being renamed a year later to become UNICUS Sheffield Ltd.

The organisation helps to operate some of the commercial services that are owned by the University and runs some of its own businesses as well. 

Why was the company formed?

An external review of the catering services was undertaken in 2009, triggered by the ongoing campus redevelopment strategy and the need to expand the catering offer into several new buildings. This was to create improved social spaces for students and staff to meet, study and relax. With several new openings planned over the coming years, a sustainable way of working was needed, as the forecast revealed a steady decline into a worsening deficit position.

The review offered three options for consideration; in-house, outsourcing or to create a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). Following extensive consultation, approval was obtained by University Council in July 2012 and UNICUS was created as a wholly owned subsidiary company of the University.

Why is it important that UNICUS returns a small surplus?

Commercial services and UNICUS finances are ring fenced, which means that the University does not subsidise our catering, event, conferencing, hotel or restaurant services. Our sales income supports all our business activities.

How do we do this and return better value to our students and internal customers?

As a business UNICUS needs to offer services comparable or better than the high street so that we are chosen for the fantastic quality of offer we are able to produce, our ethical standards and great service. Our bench marking and auditing is through external providers, aligning our terms and conditions to our sector of Hospitality and Catering, making sure that we have an ongoing programme of improving our services and offer. Our pricing policy is a break-even +10% approach, much lower than external operators who typically return between a 15% - 30% surplus.

What happens to the surplus?

UNICUS took a loan from the University to set the business up. Loan repayments start in 2017 and once the loan is repaid any surplus will be reinvested into refurbishments, improvements or new offers, and services for students and staff. The business is governed by a Board of Directors in unpaid positions, one of which is the Students' Union Development Officer. There are no shareholders or dividends paid.

Do UNICUS pay the Living Wage?

Yes UNICUS pays the equivalent of the Living Wage. UNICUS strives to be employers of choice and this investment is part of our ongoing commitment to our most valuable asset, our staff; recognising their talents, the great customer service culture they display and the positive way they contribute. We also recognise that in-work poverty is a very real issue particularly to families and are pleased to be able to reward our staff for the commitment they display. We also have a policy of reviewing the business annually and where a post is sustainable, we offer contracts so that our reliance on casual staff is kept to a minimum. Our staff are what makes UNICUS stand out from its competitors and it’s only right that we invest in them.

Why is UNICUS/Commercial Services more expensive than a quote I have had externally?

In 2015 a decision was made to pay the Living Wage equivalent as a commitment to the ongoing investment in all our contracted staff. The majority of external providers, cafés, restaurants and hotels do not support this initiative and therefore are occasionally able to offer lower prices due to their staff costs being significantly lower than our own.

Why is UNICUS tendering to external companies?

We believe we have an amazing food offer and great staff, so by competitively pricing the external offer we can achieve a better surplus, all which goes back into supporting staff and student activities. It also creates great work opportunities for students and improves our engagement in the city.

Why should I use UNICUS services?
  • UNICUS is wholly/100% owned by the University and all profits generated are re-invested into the facilities and services offered.
  • Money/resource is kept within the University group to give a much stronger consolidated financial performance - recirculating resource within the group rather than losing it externally.
  • By all being within the same VAT group, this means that no VAT is charged on internal University transactions and so again this keeps the money within the University group to recirculate.