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JOINT UNION STATEMENT [RE OUTSOURCING] Thoughts on the latest webinar

Another all-staff webinar was held on 11 May 2022: Creating the Conditions for Success at Surrey.

The webinar was hosted by the Vice-President Strategy, Planning and Performance. The main speakers were the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief People Officer. There were no academic speakers on the webinar.

Staff can watch a recording or read the transcript via the SurreyNet intranet pages here:

Professional Services and key worker loyalty

The discussion around outsourcing began with a recognition that Professional Services staff are essential to the success of the University. However, this was quickly followed-up with a warning that the University must start thinking differently in the current economic climate. Reference was made to digitisation, simplification and fundamentally changing the way things are done.

We would urge the institution’s leadership team to never forget the fantastic work of our essential frontline staff in keeping our University operating during the pandemic. The loyalty of these key workers should never be forgotten, and it is an absolute priority that they are retained in-house, with sector staff benefits, embedded in our University ‘culture’. This is the appropriate way to demonstrate that our Professional Services staff are valued properly.

Outsourcing models: a Reverse Robin Hood?

Management was asked to explain the benefits of the Cervus+ model (a separate company into which many colleagues have already been outsourced). They said that many commercial organisations would immediately outsource to a third-party provider. The potential and demonstrated negative impact/s of this was acknowledged. However, reference was made to the University creating its own companies (or ‘vehicles’ as they were referred to).

It seems reasonable to conclude that the motivation behind outsourcing (or creating our own vehicles) at Surrey would be to lower costs. This would normally be achieved by lowering the value of the benefits package for those staff affected. Management made a comparison to the Sports Park which was set up as a separate company. They did not mention that the benefits packages for most staff are lower there.

Management then went on to explain that the benefit of the Cervus+ model was that the University was able to pay specialist staff more.

As a result, another reasonable conclusion appears to be that a small number of people will be paid more when they are outsourced to Cervus+, but large numbers of staff in other areas would receive less after being outsourced to another ‘vehicle’ (for example, potentially one of the other companies that appear to have already been set up at Companies House). It would be Robin Hood Reversed.

Fair pay and reward

We cannot understand why the University feels it is necessary to go to all the time, effort, and expense of setting-up new companies to pay people more. The argument that they can’t pay people fairly under the existing University pay scheme is flawed. The unions have no objections to people being paid more when there is transparent decision-making, and this is justified. The formal annual joint Union pay claims repeatedly lobby HE employers to pay their staff increases at least in line with inflation, and for years, the employers have implemented substandard offers in return. You don’t need to outsource people to pay them fairly. We have also noticed that Cervus+ have been recruiting new administrative staff at what appears to be below the normal University pay scales.

When asked if there were specific plans to outsource particular parts of the University, Management said that it was a work in progress. They went on to outline the considerations that would be made when making decisions on which areas should be outsourced. They vaguely stated that ‘affinity’ with the University and specialism for the HE sector would be a key factor in this.

Two-tiered workforce

There was much talk about affinity, loyalty, and commitment, but this seems to clash with the potential outcome that many loyal, committed staff with a deep connection to the University could be outsourced to a separate company. They would no longer work for the University and would be very likely to receive an inferior benefits package. How this would demonstrate University values to these colleagues is mystifying.

When specifically asked if there were plans to outsource cleaning teams, Management replied that they did not like the word ‘outsource’ but that they would consider putting staff into one of the University’s ‘vehicles’.

Our view is simple: we oppose any process that deteriorates staff terms and conditions, whatever terminology is used to do this. Let us not forget, an alternative phrase to ‘outsourcing’ could be ‘fire and rehire’.

Race to the bottom?

The three campus unions at Surrey oppose harmful outsourcing and are deeply concerned by the potential for this to spread to all parts of our campus. A culture of declining workplace benefits affects us all sooner or later. Rather than racing to the bottom, we encourage the University to strive to be an employer of choice.

Please help us to spread the word by displaying one of our posters, sharing the link to this website:


BREAKING: @UCUSurrey, @unis_unison and Surrey Unite are launching a joint CAMPAIGN AGAINST OUTSOURCING at University of Surrey. More updates to follow.

Please visit the joint website here: Home – Outsourcing at Surrey

Please share widely on social media:

220228 Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions regarding outsourcing

Three departments central to the efficient operation of the University will be outsourced to Cervus Plus Consulting LLP on 1 March 2022, and yet there remain many unanswered questions. Our hope, in writing this open letter to you both, is to receive satisfactory responses to these questions so that staff and students can be assured of their continued safety both on campus and also whilst travelling on University business. We also hope to allay the concerns of the staff affected and those more broadly impacted by this outsourcing.

For anyone reading this letter ‘cold’, the central Health & Safety function, University insurance function and the internal audit and risk assurance function will all be operated from Cervus Plus Consulting LLP as of 1 March 2022. The University Information Governance function (including the Data Protection Officer and the team with responsibility for managing GDPR compliance, responding to Freedom of Information requests, etc) will also move to Cervus Plus Consulting LLP on 1May 2022. For anyone wanting further information on what the ‘LLP’ stands for in the name of the new company, there are a number of useful sites on the internet.

From those start dates, University staff within those functions will cease to be University employees and they will lose their eligibility for membership of the University Superannuation Scheme (USS pension) along with many other benefits of working for the University including, for instance, access to the Centre for Wellbeing. Cervus Plus Consulting LLP staff will have contracts of employment that specify that they are Home Workers, meaning that they will also lose the many benefits of working on campus, including face-to-face contact with colleagues and an ergonomic, fit for purpose desk/workstation.

The consultation for those staff transferring was short (33 days) and was negatively impacted by being held over the Christmas and New Year holidays. This has resulted in many questions remaining unanswered and has necessitated this letter to you both. Whilst we do not expect that you should be responsible for providing responses to the many detailed operational queries (and we have purposefully left those out from this letter, for the moment), your respective positions of President and Vice Chancellor and Chair of the University Council, do make you the right persons to answer the following:

  1. During the limited consultation we were told that there was “Significant support from EB [Executive Board] and Council. EB approved the approach and Council discussed and support the way forward at their away day”. To aid transparency and instil confidence that the transfer process was and is being completed with proper University governance, please can you:
  1. as Chair of the EB (Max), provide details of what you agreed at your meeting in September 2021 (or on any other occasion during which the proposal was discussed)?
    1. as Chair of the University Council (Michael), provide details of what you agreed at your meeting in November 2021 (or on any other occasion during which the proposal was discussed).

We understand that some of the commercially sensitive detail may need to be redacted but expect the overall proposal, direction of travel and the current and future scope of the transfer arrangements to be shared.

  • What future plans exist for other members of University staff (i.e. those not in scope for 1 March 2022 and 1 May 2022) to be transferred into Cervus Plus Consulting LLP or another new separate company?
    • Will this include staff working in professional services i.e.: HR, Finance, Estates and Facilities, as well as Student Services?
  • A new company called Operate Surrey Ltd was incorporated by Companies House on 1 February 2022. Is this the company into which some or all members of staff in HR, Finance, Estates and Facilities and Student Services may be transferred? If so, when will they be informed?
  • It would appear reasonable to conclude that hundreds of members of University staff could potentially be outsourced to either Cervus Plus Consulting LLP, Operate Surrey Ltd, Innovate Surrey Ltd or another new entity. Please can you provide your personal assurance that the consultation period for all future staff is of adequate length and will not coincide with peak holiday times?
  • How will you ensure that there is both good governance and a safe environment when, from 1 March 2022, the current University Director of Health & Safety will be employed by a third-party company – the same third-party company that has been awarded an exclusive contract to provide advice on health & safety? Who will ensure, from the University’s perspective, that the advice and service received from the third party is adequate, when the University will no longer employ a Director of Health & Safety?
  • The University of Sussex outsourced their health & safety function, only to bring it back in house. Please can you share with us details of all the actions taken by the University to ensure that:
    • Our staff and students are not going to be endangered.
    • The health & safety service provided by Cervus Plus Consulting LLP is fit for purpose when both the existing Director of Health and Safety and the existing University internal audit and risk assurance function will both be provided by Cervus Plus Consulting LLP (i.e., the supplier).
  • We understand the imperative of running the University effectively within a budget and of maximising both the student and staff experience whilst also capitalising on our fantastic research and innovative partnerships with many external bodies. However, it would appear to be counterintuitive to good housekeeping to purposefully incur multiple sets of overheads in the running of multiple separate companies to provide the same, and potentially worse service. Please can you explain the financial logic?

Given the timings of the proposed transfer, and the very great impact that these changes will have on the University, potentially hundreds of members of staff and to our current and future students, we would hope to receive a fulsome and detailed response at your earliest convenience.

Kind regards

Surrey UNISON, UCU, Unite

220216 Open Letter from Surrey UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension Scheme

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

You would have seen that the University and College Union (UCU) issued a set of new proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on 26 January 2022: ]

These new proposals would see retirement benefits protected in return for a small increase in contributions for both members and employers ahead of a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme. A USS consultation of scheme members concluded on 17 January 2022, and UCU understands that a significant majority preferred increasing contributions of members and employers in order to protect benefits over the alternatives, including benefit cuts. Moreover, USS confirmed on Thursday 20 January that its assets have jumped to over £92bn, more than £25bn higher than the previous valuation.   

Last year UCU tabled proposals that would have protected benefits, but Universities UK (UUK) refused to provide the same level of covenant support to underwrite UCU’s proposals as they provided for their own.  

UCU’s proposals are as follows:

  • that UUK call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation of the financial health of the scheme as at 31 March 2022, to be issued for consultation in June (at the latest)
  • that employers agree to provide the same level of covenant support as for their own proposals to facilitate a cost-sharing of current benefits throughout the 2022/23 scheme year, starting 1 April 2022 at 11% member/23.7% employer until 1 October 2022, and 11.8%/25.2% thereafter
  • that employers agree to pay a maximum of 25.2% and members a maximum of 9.8% from 1 April 2023 so as to secure current benefits or, if not possible, the best achievable as a result of the call on USS to issue a moderately prudent, evidence-based valuation.

On the 10th February, the USS trustee confirmed that UCU proposals can be implemented: UCU – USS trustee confirms UCU proposals can be implemented

However, there has been subsequent concern that UUK have misrepresented the UCU proposals to Vice Chancellors:

UUK’s serious misrepresentations of UCU’s proposals (Pt I) | by Michael Otsuka | Feb, 2022 | Medium

UUK’s escalating misrepresentation of UCU’s proposals (Pt II) | by Michael Otsuka | Feb, 2022 | Medium

Although UCU members of the Surrey branch did not meet the ballot threshold for strike action to take place, it cannot be underemphasised from the ballot result the substantial anger that our members have with regard to pensions. It is important to draw the concerns above to the attention of every Vice-Chancellor, including those from Universities where strike action is currently not taking place.

We are therefore writing to ask whether you would support UCU’s proposals instead of UUK’s plan. Under UUK’s plan university staff would see an approximate 35% cut to their guaranteed retirement income based on a flawed USS valuation conducted in March 2020.

Yours sincerely

Surrey UCU branch committee

Surrey UCU Committee Motion: A motion to enter into a formal dispute with the University of Surrey over setting MEQ scores as compulsory targets in appraisals and probation processes.

Surrey UCU:

1. Notes that

a. Module Evaluation Questionnaire (MEQ) scores have only ever been used in University of Surrey academic appraisals as an example of a target. Appraisees are not compelled to sign up to targets which involve MEQs as individual performance metrics.

b. Changes to appraisal targets are subject to negotiation and agreement between HR and UCU under the Terms of Reference of the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC).

c. The recent instruction sent to line managers (27/07/2021) indicated the inclusion of MEQ scores as compulsory targets in both appraisals and probations. This had not been negotiated with this UCU Branch and is therefore in breach of the JNCC agreement.

d. UCU committee proposed a reasonable remedy was for further communication to be sent to line managers to explicitly clarify that MEQ metrics should not be used as compulsory targets, rather that they remain as one of several optional examples of evidence of teaching performance, and a basis for discussion.

e. The appraisal form itself was altered several times mid cycle with changes to section 3.2, again without consultation.

f. The subsequent communication sent to all staff from the PVC Education (19/08/21) failed to clarify points made in (d) nor prevent any potential misapprehension, despite numerous attempts from UCU to ameliorate and correct this.

2. Believes that

a. MEQ scores are an unsuitable metric for use as a compulsory performance indicator

b. Any use of MEQ scores in appraisals or probations must remain optional.

c. Any alteration of appraisal/probation targets, procedures or documentation must be subject to negotiation and agreement with UCU.

3. Resolves that

a. We will raise a formal Dispute with the University over communications to staff that obfuscate the principle that MEQ scores are optional appraisal and probation targets.

b. We will maintain the position that appraisers/line managers should not use MEQ scores as compulsory targets for any appraisee.

c. We reaffirm the principle that any proposed alteration of working conditions including those subsumed within appraisal procedures must continue to be subject to negotiation and agreement with UCU.

Open Letter from Surrey UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension Scheme

We are aware that on 7 April, UUK launched a consultation of employers which closes on 24 May. UUK is asking employers whether they support proposals for benefit cuts, as a response to the extremely high contribution rates and other demands which USS is making in its 2020 valuation. We understand that both employers (UUK) and UCU agree that the 2020 valuation methodology that USS is using, is flawed, and UCU is urging UUK to join the union in robustly resisting the USS approach.

The UUK response so far, unfortunately, has been to largely ‘recycle’ the first proposal that was presented via the ACAS talks when UCU members took strike action in 2018/2019, a proposal which UCU branches decisively rejected []. UUK is proposing to:

-lower the salary threshold where defined benefit (DB) accrual stops from £59,883.65 to £40,000

-reduce accrual (and therefore the size of payments in retirement) from 1/75 to 1/85 -impose a CPI indexation cap of 2.5% (removing the protection of benefits against any inflation above that level)

-keep the contribution rate as it is now (9.6% for members, 21.1% for employers).

Just as worrying, we have been informed via national UCU that UUK is also consulting individual employers on options for addressing the high rates of staff opting out of the scheme. UUK’s preference seems to be a defined contribution (DC) only option which would be aimed at low paid members of staff, provide no guaranteed retirement income, and almost certainly amount to a very poor pension compared with the defined benefits (DB) which USS members have now.

UCU maintains that:

-the contribution increases proposed by USS for the 2020 valuation are unnecessary. This view is supported by UCU’s actuarial advisers, First Actuarial. We understand that UUK and their advisers, Aon, also believe that the rates and other commitments demanded by USS are excessive and unjustified.

-the cuts to defined benefits proposed by UUK are absolutely unacceptable. Even within the current regulatory framework, it should be possible to preserve current defined benefits without an increase in contributions – particularly in contributions for members. This would involve stronger commitments on the part of employers, including not only extra covenant support but potentially also higher employer contributions and/or potentially a willingness to take a bolder public stand against USS and The Pensions Regulator.

In conclusion we seek the following assurance that University of Surrey’s response within the current UUK consultation will press for the continuance of defined benefits for all staff, particularly those on lower wages. In addition, we are requesting written responses to the following questions:

-Will University of Surrey commit to sharing its consultation response? -In terms of addressing opt-out rates, does University of Surrey endorse the DC option preferred by UUK or an alternative?

-Is University of Surrey willing to pay higher contributions than the current rate? -Does University of Surrey endorse the benefits cuts proposed by UUK or not?

-Does University of Surrey want UUK to explore conditional indexation with UCU?

-Is University of Surrey willing to provide more covenant support, particularly in the form of a 30 year moratorium on employer exits?

-Would University of Surrey be willing to consider legal action against USS/TPR?

In light of the current UUK consultation timeline, we would appreciate a formal written response before the 12th May. We shall be circulating any response to our members.

Thank you

Kind regards

Surrey UCU Committee

Charter for the Staffing and Delivery of Open Days

In recent years, the University of Surrey has introduced some Open Days to take place on a Sunday, while also they were introduced in relatively recent days on a Saturday in the era of tuition fees and growing competition to attract applicants and students. The UCU Surrey branch notes the extra workload that this brings upon staff to give substantial parts of their weekend on Saturdays and/or Sundays in order to run Open Days. Furthermore, under UK law any staff member of an organisation has no obligation to work on a Sunday and that, if required, this must be agreed in writing. It is therefore very important to consult widely with academic and professional services staff who may be directly or indirectly affected by the introduction of Sunday Open Days and to respect their position in light of the law as is common practice amongst many employers.

Staff across the University may have differing views on whether Sunday Open Days are right or wrong in principle. However, legally the University is required to consult widely with all staff involved and seek their agreement to take part. Furthermore, organising a Sunday Open Day in the hope staff will willingly participate may indirectly put obligation on staff to participate, and such an obligation is illegal. This problem has undoubtedly been exacerbated by some staff choosing not to participate in a Sunday Open Day, which then obliges other colleagues to have to take their place. Therefore, a Sunday Open Day must only ever happen subject to the following conditions given in this charter in line with the law:

1. A full consultation is made with all staff potentially affected. They are to be asked to provide their formal agreement that they will participate on a given date. If an insufficient number and demography (i.e. from every department and relevant central services in the University) agree to take part, the Sunday Open Day must categorically not happen or be re-scheduled to another day.

2. On any consultation with staff, it must clearly be communicated to all involved that they are not under any obligation to support the proposed Sunday Open Day and that the University fully respects their right not to work on a Sunday.

3. No member of staff must be obliged to find cover for their role at a Sunday Open Day that they do not wish to participate in or for which they are unavailable. Staffing responsibilities should lie with the Open Day organisers and not individual staff members.

4. Consent to participate in Sunday Open Days must be sought annually.

A further issue that arises as a result of the Sunday Open Days in relation to the University’s employment policy is that academic staff and professional services staff above level 5 are not explicitly covered by the time off in lieu (TOIL) Guidelines and thus not entitled to it, which can be considered less favourable treatment. Staff at level 4 and below are entitled to two days time off in lieu for working on a Sunday. Therefore, with two Sunday Open Days and a Saturday Open Day, a member of staff can gain a week’s extra annual leave. This causes internal staffing problems to cover for extra time off. For academic staff it may be less within their interests of wellbeing to participate in a Sunday Open Day as any time off in lieu is unavailable and unlikely to be possible to take soon after due to substantial teaching duties the following days.

Additional to the legal requirements on Sunday working, it is also important to note the Equalities Act in light of a Friday, Saturday or Sunday Open Day requires the need to avoid discrimination in relation to matters including health, religion or belief, caring responsibilities in particular. This further emphasises the need for wide consultation with all staff affected. The University are requested to follow the above guidelines for the wider benefit of the University community which values our staff and in turn works for the better in running our Open Days.

Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

1st March 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

Thank you for your formal response (dated 11th December 2020) to the UCU open letter (dated 26th November 2020). We appreciated the direct communication from the Vice-Chancellor regarding the important issue of staff security.

In terms of the content of the formal response, the three campus trade unions, UCU, UNISON and Unite, continue to have concerns and we are writing to you as a collective to seek reassurances for our respective members. Our concerns relate specifically to the following statement:

 ‘You would appreciate that no organisation can guarantee what the changes will be needed or that there will be no redundancies in the future. However, the strategy refresh process has highlighted the need for University of Surrey to increase the total number of academic staff, in order to stay competitive.’

In addition to the lack of reassurances as to future redundancies, our concerns are as follows:

1) This response focuses on academic staff with no mention of the importance of, or planning for, staff providing essential services within the institution (e.g. Professional Services, Technicians, Estates).

2) It is unclear from the statement whether the University is planning to increase the number of academic staff in order to provide more courses. If this is the case, and no simultaneous increase in other functions is being considered, staff members within Professional Services/Technical roles will experience a consequent increase in workload and work-related stress.  

3) Furthermore, while we welcome the recognition that there is a need to “increase the total number of academic staff”, this needs to go hand-in-hand with protecting current academics’ jobs. Expanding some areas at the expense of others – even if there were to be a net total gain of academic posts  – would not be an acceptable strategy, and we need further assurances that this is not what is being considered.

4) On a related note, we have become aware that the institution has begun a ‘Professional Services Review’ but to date the campus trade unions have yet to be in/formally notified. We look forward to receiving information on the current thinking behind any such review, plus planned timescales for decisions and subsequent actions involving staff.

As we hope the above points will demonstrate, we believe all staff functions are connected, and deserve parity, within University of Surrey.

In order to understand more fully the remit of the Strategy Review/Refresh, we would like a second formal response which clarifies more precisely the current institutional position. We have identified the following options:

1) The Strategy Review/Refresh does not encompass plans for compulsory redundancies 

2) If there are to be redundancies, the university will offer a generous institution-wide voluntary severance scheme in the first instance

3) No redundancies will be made based on cost savings unless and until they are subject to full transparent audit of any financial justification, including alternative savings and measures scrutinised by UCU finance experts

4) No compulsory redundancies are to be considered until student numbers for 2021-2022 are known

5) Compulsory redundancies are only being considered in specific areas, not part of a University wide programme (please detail/list specific areas)

6) We cannot confirm or commit to any of the above as there is no formulated institutional plan.

Please could you clarify which option/s are closest to representing the Executive Board’s current thinking?

To summarise our joint campus trade union position, we are aware that student numbers have not been as badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as originally predicted, and that we are yet to see any granular financial evidence that would justify the need for redundancy planning. In addition to this, any cost saving exercises that were proven to be necessary, should be made by focussing on non-staff costs (e.g. reviewing the cost of consultants and institutional software). 

We look forward to your further response and clarifications.

Kind regards

Surrey UCU, Unite, UNISON