Report on UCU Higher Education Committee on 27 April 2018
Adam Ozanne, an elected member of UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC), its Superannuation Working Group and the USS Advisory Committee, has written the following account of the discussions regarding the setting up by UCU and UUK of a Joint Expert Panel that took place in HEC on 27 April together with some observations about UCULeft.
Paul Bridge, UCU’s Head of HE, presented a report summarising the following:
- the result of the consultative e-ballot: 64% of pre-1992 members voted on a 64% turnout (the highest in the union’s history) to accept the UUK offer of March 23rdand set up a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that will assess the validity of the 2017 valuation and investigate alternatives to the current DB/DC scheme;
- subsequent discussions within UCU’s Superannuation Working Group (SWG) and with UUK; and,
- the response of Bill Galvin, the USS CEO, to the agreement by UUK and UCU to set up the JEP.
The report noted that there was a meeting of the JNC at 3.00pm and made a number of recommendations that were accepted by HEC and can be summarised as follows:
- HEC approved the setting up of the JEP with three members nominated by UUK and three by UCU, as well as its Terms of Reference, operational timelines and reporting mechanisms.
- HEC delegated to the SWG the endorsement of an ACAS recommended Chair of JEP.
- HEC agreed that anyone interested in being one of UCU’s three JEP members may nominate themselves by submitting their CV and a 500 word statement, and that the SWG (minus the three USS Trustee Directors) would act as the selection and appointment panel and, in consultation with the HEC officers, take all other actions necessary to set up the JEP. SWG will seek recognised subject leaders with expertise in and knowledge of pensions, finance, the HE sector and the legal and regulatory context.
- HEC directed the USS negotiators, in the JNC meeting that afternoon, to vote to revoke the DC-only resolution reached at its meeting on January 23rd, and against any move by USS to trigger a consultation of USS members on Rule 76.4 before the JEP has time to complete its work on the 2017 valuation (Rule 76.4 says that if JNC does not agree reach agreement on how to deal with the results of a triennial valuation USS may seek to raise employer/member contributions on a 65:35 basis).
- The Chair of HEC and Head of HE will liaise with the Congress Business Committee with a view to providing time at HE Sector Conference for a report of the first meeting of the JEP and related matters.
All the above had been discussed and unanimously agreed by the Superannuation Working Group, which includes the four elected USS negotiators, the two alternate negotiators from the USS Advisory Committee (including myself) and the three UCU nominated Directors on the USS Trustee Board.
Several motions relating to the setting up of the JEP had been tabled by HEC members. One, that committed the JEP to robustly challenging the current USS valuation and methodology and HEC to pursuing changes in pensions’ regulations, was passed; and an amendment to the Head of HE’s report to include recognition of the equality and diversity implications of any changes in USS was accepted.
The proposers of the other motions were all allowed to speak to them, with no contrary speeches against, but, after the main USS report was passed, fell either (as “consequentials”) because they were incompatible with the above recommendations or because they involved constitutional changes to UCU’s decision making processes that can only be made by Congress.
This, it has to be said, caused a good deal of acrimony with many formal challenges to the Chair by the proposers of the motions which had the unfortunate effect of reducing the time available for discussion of the main report and its recommendations – especially as the SWG members of HEC had to leave the five hour meeting after three hours to prepare for and attend the JNC meeting. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been better if all the motions had been withdrawn and if debate had concentrated on the main report together with, perhaps, additional amendments to its recommendations being proposed and considered; however, nobody suggested this and much time was wasted in unproductive argument and formal challenges to the chair..
Nevertheless, my personal view is that, despite claims made subsequently on the Activists list by some of those who disagreed with the above recommendations, the motions had to fall once the main report was accepted. This is because – despite claims that they “complemented” the main report – they all contained elements that were incompatible with the main report and/or UCU’s established democratic decision making processes.
For example, three of the motions sought to replace the elected HEC as the relevant decision-making body of the HE part of UCU with an ad hoc national strike committee or a branch delegate meeting with voting powers. Others would have delayed the setting up of the JEP until after HESC at the end of May, which would be too late given the time pressures we are under, or only allowed UCU members to be JEP members, which would unnecessarily exclude leading experts who do not work in HE. All these points were either incompatible with the recommendations in the main report, which had already been voted upon and accepted, or would have undermined UCU’s established decision making bodies. Logically and procedurally, it was not sensible to consider them any further.
In my opinion, therefore, the outcome of Friday’s HEC and the manner in which decisions were reached were appropriate. This is not, however, what you might think from reading some of the reports on Twitter etc. which seem to suggest that those who take a different view must be acting undemocratically or, even worse, are a “powerful right wing faction” in UCU that “believes in the deficit”. (Full disclosure: I first joined the Labour Party in 1976, and have never been a member of any other political party, though I have on occasion voted Green, Communist Party (for a friend was standing in a local election) and LibDem (after the Iraq invasion)).
I am afraid it is also the case that the conduct of some in the HEC meeting – disrespecting the Chair’s efforts to limit speeches in order to allow others time, shouting or speaking unnecessarily loudly into the microphone, showing obvious irritation with having to use a microphone and calling a point of order even after it had been called to an end, made the meeting unnecessarily drawn out and acrimonious and limited the time available for proper debate.
The chair had already had to draw attention at the start of the meeting to incorrect reports of the previous HEC on the activists list, which erroneously claimed he had not allowed discussion (13 colleagues had in fact taken part in discussion), and that he had ruled motions out of order (simply did not happen).
I find all of this deeply disappointing, and will go further by stating the following. UCULeft’s claims to being for a democratic and member-led union are inconsistent with its efforts on 27 April to undermine HEC as the legitimate decision-making body in the USS dispute, its opposition at the end of March to the e-ballot of all post-1992 members on the UUK offer, not to mention its opposition to local and national e-ballots and GTVO (Get The Vote Out) were when they were first introduced.
Just as there are good, democratic reasons for rules stating quotas and minimum numbers of days for giving notice of AGM and EGMs, so there are good reasons for using modern technology to enable timely member participation in decision making and for limiting the ability of meetings to change decision making processes and structures on the hoof (as in replacing HEC with ad hocstrike committees and “branch meetings with voting rights”).
Such rules prevent small unrepresentative but well organised factions from taking control of political organisations and leading them in directions the majority of members (who may be unaware of what is happening or too busy to attend in numbers at short notice) would not agree with. Similarly, insistence on the use of microphones when speaking is not a bureaucratic obsession but an equality principle that enables the hard of hearing to participate fully while rules prohibiting angry outbursts, repeated interruptions and shouting limit intimidatory behaviour and promotes free debate. Such rules and conventions are profoundly important for the well-being of the union.
What every member of HEC, regardless of whether they are a paid up member of UCULeft or not, recognises is the huge success of the USS industrial action. From GTVO trouncing the statutory ballot 50% turnout requirement to vast numbers of new members and the mobilisation of tens of thousands on strike, on picket lines and in vibrant meetings, UCU is leading the UK trade union movement in opposing the Tory government’s anti-trade union legislation. We are showing the way in reinvigorating trade unionism in opposition to the marketisation of the public sector and the erosion of traditional values of collegiality and public service that are the bedrock of the success of UK universities.
The setting up of the JEP is the next step in the defence of decent pensions in universities – and, indeed, elsewhere, because a successful JEP could well influence what happens to other pensions schemes, so we must get it right. The plan is for it to report in two stages: first, on the 2017 valuation in the Autumn, in time to forestall the USS making changes in 2019 based upon a disputed deficit; the second on alternative risk sharing mechanisms to the current hybrid DB/DC scheme. Friday’s HEC and the JNC the same afternoon set that process in motion and I for one am more than a little content with it and relieved that arrangements for setting up the JEP can commence immediately.