Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions 11.03.24

Dear Vice Chancellor,

UCU members and the wider University community are extremely concerned at the content of the message delivered in your recent all-staff meeting on the 6th of March 2024. You are calling for voluntary redundancies alongside the sale of University assets, and range of vague cost cutting exercises that involve “working in a different way” in an attempt to transform your £10M deficit into a £10M surplus in a year. Consequently, job security, increased workloads, and lack of financial transparency are many areas of concern highlighted to us by our members and other colleagues.

Your justification for the programme of voluntary severance and other cost cuts includes an ever more competitive student recruitment environment, tuition fees that have not risen with inflation, and increased energy costs. With the exception of the last point, these are the same reasons that attempted to justify the swingeing cuts five years ago as part of the Continuous Improvement Programme that resulted in a Vote of No Confidence in University Leadership. We note the lack of progress in managing these challenges, and furthermore, the incongruous investment in several multi-million-pound projects that University managers were either unaware the institution could not afford, or perhaps worse, went ahead anyway in the knowledge that they were beyond the means of the institution.

We note, as we noted in 2019, a tendency towards an Executive Board that regards staff as “costs and not assets”, with the focus entirely on crude financial savings and without any obvious consideration of the unforeseen costs in losing experience, knowledge, and expertise across a body of staff that underpin all that the University does, and that you should regard as your greatest resource. Clearly, many areas are already significantly understaffed.

However, the main purpose of this letter is to seek some early assurances so that staff do not have the spectre of uncertainty hanging over them. You raised the issue of the potential for ‘compulsory redundancies’. We therefore request:-

1. That you provide a categorical assurance that no member of staff that the recognised trade unions have bargaining rights for will be subjected to compulsory redundancy this calendar year.

2. That a VS scheme must fully incentivise applicants in order to reduce the risk of compulsory redundancies. As this is our paramount goal, we ask that you keep the VS application process open until at least the end of this academic year. This would allow those considering this option the time to make financial decisions which could involve checking pension data, considering reducing hours on a permanent or temporary basis, unpaid sabbatical etc. A 10-day period is not long enough for such life changing decisions nor to get the feedback required on the various options.

3. That you provide assurances that where “different ways of working” are planned, and where this may significantly change someone’s role, (especially where people may be outsourced or directed to sign new contracts that they may feel are on less attractive terms), then VS will be re-opened for those individuals, on the same terms as currently offered.

4. That the period, after which an employee can be made compulsorily redundant without an unsuccessful application for EVS being honoured, should be at least a year.

5. That UoS respond in detail to the UCU request for full financial transparency (formal request made to the Interim Chief Financial Officer Finance: Tuesday 5th March 2024).

We look forward to a positive reply from yourself that is sufficiently timely to allow our members an opportunity to consider your response, given the very short 10-day window that you have set for Voluntary Severance applications.

Yours sincerely

Surrey Unite, UNISON and UCU Committees