Thursday, July 24, 2014

Canteen Story Part 6 : A leap forward - extension in services

Part 6 of "The Canteen Story" written by late Professor E.F. Bartholomeusz is published today. Use the link below to access previously published instalments.

Part 1: Birth of an idea
Part 2: Opening moves - research and report
Part 3. The first Canteen Committee (C.C.)
Part 4: The Inner Circle
Part 5: Financial practices

Part 6. A leap forward - extension in services 

Initial plans were based on the prudent 'last case premise' that revenues were derived from tea profits alone. In practice early escalations in patronage and progressive streamlining of services and the consequential increases in revenue from tea and from sales of cigarettes and food (excluded in planning), combined to generate profits that were significantly in excess of the conservative early estimates. This outcome encouragedthe C.C. with its newfound dynamism to seek new fields for conquest.

To begin with, immediate steps were taken towards the repayment of the university loan. This was achieved in half the stipulated time! On deeper review it was decided at this point that:

a. canteen tariffs be held fixed and standards maintained despite the alarming rises in the costs of food and general supplies outside;

b. the canteen's daily menu be extended to include popular food items like hoppers and stringhoppers with customary accompaniments, as well as favored other savories - this was to make the canteen a popular breakfast center for the non-resident working staff of the faculty;

c. the canteen become a provider of quality stationary and instruments at the lowest feasible cost, to students of the Faculty who hitherto had, of necessity, to purchase these items from middle-suppliers in the private sector, at substantial expense.

To the latter end, two members of the C.C. were delegated to conduct supply negotiations with relevant authorities in the Government Paper corporation in Colombo, which was at that time the sole conduit of drawing paper to the private sector. Despite an initial display of reluctance on their part, insistent appeals and elucidations backed by explanations overcame objections and our request was finally conceded with a generous quota allocation authorized from this source direct to the C.C., enabling the latter to provide drawing paper to students of the Faculty at less than half the prevailing price.

Drawing instruments were a more complex issue. The only sources of drawing instruments up to this time were a few suppliers in the private sector who dealt exclusively with costly instruments of British manufacture. As a first step towards an alleviation of this expense, the chairman of the C.C. addressed diplomatic representatives of countries of recognized repute in the manufacture of scientific instruments soliciting their interest and seeking suggestions as to delivery and cost. The responses to this communication were prompt and encouraging. The particular response from the commercial attache of the Czech embassy was deemed, by consensus in the committee, to be the most promising and favourable. Accordingly, samples of Czech design were requested and duly provided. These were judged to be comparable in both quality and design to those already in vogue and were available at costs substantially below those prevailing. The deal was forthwith sealed at the Czech embassy in Colombo by representatives of the C.C. and orders duly placed and ratified on that occasion.

The arrival of these instruments at the canteen stores was received with jubilation among our students, and procedures were soon in place for their sale in the canteen (at one set per student) at a price which, despite a modest margin of profit, fell far below those of earlier years.

These initiatives of the C.C. were crowned with success and brought in revenues that vastly out-stripped our early timid expectations. At this stage the C.C. itself may be said to have progressed from its faltering first steps to a position of confidence and maturity, and the time for setting acceptable criteria for the disbursement of profits had arrived. After due deliberation, it was unanimously agreed that the following targets be set, subject to review in very special circumstances:

a. 30% of profits be banked in a canteen contingency fund;

b. 20% be diverted as bonus in savings accounts in the name of members of the canteen staff in recognition of their contribution to this outcome, and that

c. 50% be reserved for salaries, dues, current running expenses, and for the retention of canteen prices in an environment of sharply rising costs.

At around this time the C.C. could no longer, in common fairness, afford to ignore the substantial additional load that devolved on the treasurer from these added undertakings. He (Mr Manniyangama) continued, uncomplaining, to discharge his duties in the C.C. with his customary meticulousness and excellence, paying dearly for it in lost evenings and curtailed week-ends. The recognition of these services took the form of a monthly allowance allocated from canteen funds to the office of treasurer. This arrangement was authorized by the Vice Chancellor, who demanded to be assured that these duties were not discharged in 'official time' which, indeed, by their very nature, they were not.

In further pursuance of its mission, canteen food supplies were extended in both volume and variety and catering services were provided for faculty occasions at all levels. When funds exceeded pre-judged limits, the spill-over was often used for student awards for each year, based exclusively on academic merit.

As a further measure of service, a cheque/money order/postal order cashing facility was provided by the treasurer to all members of the faculty out of weekly canteen takings which were, by then, large enough to accommodate a scheme of this kind. Needless to say, this initiative was received with high enthusiasm by the whole community. It can be claimed that at this stage the C.C. objectives of 'quality service at low cost' were by and large met.

To be concluded with next chapter:

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