Letter to our Surrey UCU members

Dear all,

We are writing our last letter before strike action, and this time the letter is to you, our Surrey UCU members. We were very sorry not to receive a response from Professor Lu himself to our last open letter, but instead a response from the Head of HR that left many of our questions unanswered. In particular, we feel that it is unfortunate that:

– We have no specific response for our members who will not receive a UK state pension and for whom we believe that the current Aon modelling, promoted by UUK, is misleading

– That we have no explanation as to why it is thought appropriate, given the different valuations of the USS pension, that UUK supported one set of figures to discredit the current scheme whilst using another to support the projected modelling of their proposal.

In addition to this, in terms of the current formal consultation, it would be positive to receive confirmation that University of Surrey is listening to its staff members. The UCU Ballot result was announced on the 22nd January, the day before the final JNC meeting. This was the biggest mandate that UCU had ever received, and nationally we even reached the double threshold imposed on public service unions, that not only 50% of members vote, but that 50% of members vote Yes.  We know of at least one University that reacted instantly to this strong message from their staff members and ‘conference called’ into a UUK Employers Pension Forum stating they were now keen to find a middle ground. UCU members have made it very clear what they think of the current proposal.

You will hopefully have seen the email sent round by Sally Hunt yesterday detailing the Universities that have supported UCU and openly called for further negotiations. These institutions include Loughborough, Goldsmiths, Glasgow, Warwick, Birkbeck, Strathclyde, and London School of Tropical Hygiene and Medicine. We have previously circulated the call for more time and more negotiations from the Sheffield VC.

Please do not miss this statement now issued by the Vice Chancellor at Essex, Anthony Forster, who unequivocally supports the rights of staff to retain the
defined benefit pension in a spirit of ‘principled compromise’. It is incredibly heartening, given the huge changes being proposed by UUK, that a statement stressing the importance of duty of care to staff members has been released by a VC at this time.

A huge amount of positive press has been generated supporting UCU. Please do not miss the front page of the TIMES today – it really is a show down piece: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/university-strike-puts-final-exams-in-danger-l27b9x7vn

To return to University of Surrey and recent statements, we were concerned to read, within the Head of HR’s response to our Open Letter, that PwC is advising the USS trustees. We know that PwC have been involved in a huge restructuring process in a nearby University which cost £36 million, and which resulted, when you look at the University accounts, in a subsequent rise in staff costs. The ability of consultancy firms like PwC to extract millions of pounds from public institutions for extremely dubious results is outlined in the BBC documentary Who’s Spending Britain’s Billions (there is about 15 minutes just on PwC!) Please find the documentary here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00UFYU_Gr7w

This is also related to our request to Professor Lu about discussion on the priorities of the University. We are concerned that the value of staff is being sidelined. Up and down the country, Universities have embarked on huge projects, turning their campuses into building sites and ambitiously creating overseas campuses. We are concerned that at any point where finances need to be reviewed, cutting staff costs is the first option on the list.

On a positive note, however, in terms of local news, USSU have provided information on strike action on their website, and beforehand they asked both sides to contribute a statement. You can find the information supplied, including the UCU view, here: https://www.ussu.co.uk/support/Pages/Strike.aspx

We are proud to have established a constructive dialogue with USSU, Unite and Unison in the lead up to strike action. We are cc’ing USSU, Unison and Unite into this member letter, not as a sign that we expect them to agree on all points of our position, but to show our commitment to communication during this dispute. We would also welcome a return to open dialogue with Professor Lu.

As we now enter the last few days, we advise all members, and students, to write to the VC, asking for the details that we have not yet received. In relation to his assurance:

This is why I and the Executive Board have been supporting the attempts being made by all parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the pension discussions, but the outcome must be one that is affordable for institutions.

We asked:

We are very pleased to hear that yourself and the Executive Board have been supporting the attempts being made by all parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome in the pension discussions. It would be a great comfort to our members, and to staff members here at University of Surrey generally, to hear how this support has manifested itself, and what actions you have taken to further a mutually agreeable outcome which is unfortunately not yet in sight.

We wish only to add, as a last point, that it is important to remember that we are not taking action alone, but our Branch is part of a huge movement involving 61 other HE institutions.

Surrey UCU is not alone.

See you on the pickets.

The Surrey UCU Committee