VR and Pay Freeze

Pay freeze consultation

Since we last wrote to you on 17 July, the same day as our most recent letter to VCEG,

• the university closed its consultation on the pay freeze,
• we met with Chris Cobb and HR on Tue 21 July to raise comments and concerns, and
• we received a written response to our representations shortly before the

During our meeting with Chris Cobb and HR, it was acknowledged that the pay freeze represents a change to our T&Cs. This was the first time we had heard acknowledgement from the University that this was the case; this was repeated by the VC at Monday’s Town Hall.

Typically, a change to our T&Cs requires our consent. The consultation exercise may have been an attempt by the University to seek to evidence that staff were agreeing to this change. However, in our representations to the University, we were clear that our engagement should not be interpreted as agreement. We accept that COVID-19 is impacting University budgets in new and significant ways, but we would also argue that the University made no meaningful attempt to negotiate with us on this matter. There’s a clear difference between consultation and negotiation.

We requested sight of the Equality Impact Assessment. This has not been provided; instead, equalities statistics have been given, the validity of which we have concerns about as outlined in our latest letter to VCEG (currently being prepared).

Also, very few of the specific and reasonable questions we’ve been asking on your behalf were answered. On Monday, we received just a page and a half of answers to ‘frequently asked’ questions.

Voluntary redundancy proposal

On Friday, HR shared details of a proposed VR formula applicable for the coming months. For upcoming restructures, they have proposed:

Actual (gross) weekly pay x length of service x 1.5
(with length of service is rounded up/down to the nearest full-year)

We are doing some additional research to compare this proposal with what equivalent universities are offering, but our initial view is that this falls significantly short of what is being offered elsewhere at the moment through similar schemes.

It’s important we know what you think about this offer in order to inform our position over the coming days and weeks, so please do get in touch.

UCU Senate House Committee

Feedback on employer statement

We’ve been hearing from many of you in the last few days about statements made by University of London Senior Leadership.

We share in your immense frustration at the lack of detail and lack of engagement with us in making these statements. Unions did not see the detail of that proposal until the evening before and so we have had no opportunity to provide feedback until now.

We will of course be scrutinising the detail of this proposal and ask for your immediate feedback to help us understand what our membership think.

We would strongly encourage you to submit any feedback on the proposal, whether general or in light of your personal circumstance, via UCU (and anonymously) here: https://forms.gle/kxNyfmGqwUxr7KSg7.

We find ourselves in challenging times and there is strength and protection in raising our issues collectively through the mechanisms of the union.

Branch AGM

As well as discussing all of our successes and challenges in 2019, the AGM is also a time when we, as a branch, elect our new committee.

As delighted as I am with the depth and talent of this committee, we are still looking to fill the role of Branch Secretary. We also have another space for UCU’s second representative on the University of London’s safety committee. If you wish to enquire about either of these positions then do let us know by emailing ucu@london.ac.uk.

I’m pleased to announce that the following members have been duly elected:

  • Chair – Tim Hall
  • Vice Chair – Elizabeth Savage
  • Treasurer – Kumar Singaravelou
  • Membership Secretary – Huw Morgan Jones
  • Equality Officer – Sarah Thorniley
  • Health and Safety Officer – Liz Wilkinson
  • Ordinary member – Tim Wade
  • Ordinary member (Careers Group) – Philippa Hewett
  • Ordinary member (IHR Rep) – Matt Shaw
  • Ordinary member (Warburg Rep) – Nessa Malone
  • Ordinary member – Nicholas Matheou
  • Co-opted member (IES Rep) – Christopher Ohge
  • Co-opted member (IMLR Rep) – Elizabeth Dearnley

Finally a huge thank you to all of you who volunteered on the committee last year.

Annual General Meeting: 4th December 2018 at 12.30pm


Dear Members,

We invite you to attend the 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the Senate House branch of UCU. At this meeting, we’ll take a look back at successes and challenges we faced in 2018 and ask you to nominate the branch committee for 2019.

Our AGM is an essential part of the yearly plan and ensures that our union remains democratic by giving you the opportunity to stand and vote in a new committee, make changes to the constitution and hear the annual report from the Chair and other committee members.

Did you know: all UCU members are entitled to attend the AGM within working hours – in other words, you can attend the meeting and then take your lunch break.

Nominate your branch committee for 2019

Your local committee represents you. Make sure you’re involved in choosing who they are!

At the AGM, we will seek to appoint the 2019 branch committee. In the coming weeks, we will provide information about what roles we’d like to appoint to and how you can put yourself forward to these roles.

To coordinate the nominations process, we would like to appoint a Returning Officer. This person will receive nominations in advance of the meeting and announce appointees at the AGM. If you would like to be the Returning Officer at the 2018 AGM, please email ucu@london.ac.uk or a branch officer by Wednesday 31st October.

A further reason to attend? Sandwiches, tea, coffee, biscuits (and perhaps some mince pies) will be provided. A special guest speaker will also be announced closer to the date to come and join us to present on an important topic relating to the trade union movement.

If you have any questions about or suggestions for the AGM, please get in touch!

Best wishes,

UCU Senate House branch committee (Tim, Angela, Huw, Kumar, Clare, Theresa, Sarah, Liz)

Eight things you could write in response to the USS consultation on increased contributions

Why are we being consulted on increased costs now?

The USS Consultation on contribution increases is now open! This consultation is happening because the USS JNC failed to reach agreement on pension reform in 2017.

The incredible industrial action that took place earlier this year over the 2017 USS valuation resulted in the creation of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) which is seeking to make recommendations for favourable benefit arrangements for the future.

Our expectation is that the outcomes of the JEP will kick these cost-sharing measures into the long grass. It’s still really important though that as many UCU members take part in this consultation so as to let USS know what we think of their awful proposals!

Here are eight things you could write when responding to the consultation

1. You have lost confidence in the administration of the scheme.
(Read the recent USSBrief’s contribution if you need convincing on this point!)

2. You do not consider the case to have been made for increased contributions, and consider it an appalling lack of judgement that the trustee has implemented them without awaiting the report of the Joint Expert Panel.

3. You do not believe that either UniversitiesUK or USS have been acting in the best interests of your university, and are of the opinion that a re-run of the consultation last year which established employer views on the valuation is essential.

4. You believe the scheme has failed to engage effectively with its stakeholders. In particular, that the stakeholders of the scheme have not been given sufficient actuarial information, particularly with regards projections of the funding level over the next 20 years.

5. You are concerned that the trustee has selectively released actuarial information, withholding important data of interest to both employers and members and refusing direct requests for information.

6. You believe that the poor judgement of the trustee and its executive has been a major factor in avoidable industrial action in Higher Education, with direct implications for the education of students, the international reputation of UK institutions, and the livelihoods of its staff.

7. You call on the trustee board to rethink urgently its approach to the funding of the scheme, particularly with regards to its flawed and harmful Test 1, and reconsider the required contribution rates.

8. You would be prepared to take further industrial action in defence of your pension and will do so if the case for any future changes is not made beyond a reasonable doubt, including with much greater levels of transparency.
It’s so important that all USS members contribute to this process otherwise your voice will not be heard!

You can contribute to the consultation now. You’ll need your USS member and national insurance numbers (member numbers can be found on your USS statements and consultation letter recently received).

A response to our message (bringing outsourced workers back in-house)

Dear Members,

Please see the following message received from Chris Cobb as a response to our message on the 3rd of July regarding the Facilities Management Review.

Dear UNISON and UCU Senate House branches,

I would first like to acknowledge both your disappointment regarding the University’s 29th June 2018 FM review update, and the reaffirmation of your belief that all who call the University of London their regular place of work, should be directly employed.

I have provided a response to your specific requests below.  I do hope that you will acknowledge that these were addressed, orally, in the specially convened FM review update meeting which took place on 10th July 2018, and were discussed in further detail at the meeting of the University’s Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee on 12th July 2018.

From my side, I acknowledge that the University has yet to provide you with the degree of specificity you seek particularly regarding our intentions in relation to your participation moving forward. 

Turning to your specific requests and retaining your numbering for ease of reference.

  1. Use of language
    We note that the statement issued did not include one instance of words or terms such as ‘worker’, ‘people’, ‘in-house’ or ‘bringing people in house’. This is unsettling given that some of these terms have been used within the previous communication and given that this issue is primarily about how people are employed. When communicating regarding this issue, these phrases should be used to avoid confusion and to provide clarity over who and what is being discussed.

The statement issued on 29th June 2018 was intended to provide an update on the activity that was being undertaken to take forward the recommendation of the FM Steering Group.  The primary focus of the statement therefore was to highlight the significant planning that was underway in the 3 areas mentioned in that statement (Customer Service Model, Student Residential Life Programme and Security Review); planning that will ultimately underpin the basis on which we will move forward.

We accept however that the statement would have benefited from retaining the same or similar references to ‘worker’, ’people’, in-house’ as used in previous communications.  We will therefore be very mindful of this when preparing future updates.

  1. Timetable
    We also note that we have yet to receive a timetable of who will be brought in house and when. The only recent reference made to a timeframe related to a possible customer service model and student residential life programme being presented to the Board of Trustees in the autumn. We request that a more detailed timetable be provided, to demonstrate the current stage of planning. Whilst we appreciate that such plans may be in a draft form, it is important that colleagues have sight of provisional plans as these also provide reassurance that the University remains committed to this issue. This should include reference to our cleaning colleagues as they were not directly addressed within the most recent statement.

I trust you will accept that we are endeavouring to balance the desire to provide certainty at the earliest opportunity with the wish to avoid establishing a set of timelines that may prove challenging to meet for a variety of reasons; not all of which can be anticipated, or under our control.

I trust you will also accept that we need to mindful of our contractual obligations to our contracted out suppliers and their staff when setting out a programme of work that will have a material impact on their future relationship with the University.

I can assure you however that we remain wholly committed to this issue and are in ongoing dialogue with our contracted out suppliers.

The current planning is focused on the following services: security, reception, switchboard, porters, post room, AV and cleaning. 

If our current planning progresses as anticipated and our plans are subsequently accepted by the Board of Trustees in the autumn, our aim would be to put in a place an in-house service provision for reception, porters, post room and AV during the second and third (calendar) quarters of 2019.

You will understand that we are not able to be absolute in our timings and the above provisional timings will be subject to discussion with our suppliers and further informed by our, and our suppliers, statutory obligations in respect of the people they (our suppliers) employ to work at the University.

The security and cleaning services are quite complex in that they involve more work streams than the other services and rely on specialist contractors to an extent that the other services do not.  The planning in relation to these services will inevitably therefore take longer.  Our aim however is to be in a position to outline a provisional timeline in relation to cleaning services by the end of October 2018 and in relation to security by December 2018.

We are not yet in a position to add anything by way of further update in relation to our hard FM, catering and grounds services for the reasons set out in the statement of 29th June 2018.  Please be assured however that we remain in active discussion with the current service providers.

  1. Implementation group
    It has been suggested by senior management that an ‘in-housing implementation group’ is established. We request that the unions have full consultation on the Terms of Reference for and membership of this group.
  2. Security review
    That the unions also have full consultation on the upcoming security review including agreeing the Terms of Reference, which security and technology experts are selected, and input into the methodology used for the review. Union involvement in this process is paramount, particularly now it has been communicated to staff. This is a health and safety issue and there will be many questions. Additionally, particularly in light of recent media coverage, reference should be made to the recent expenditure of University funds on enhanced security and what this has achieved over the last few weeks.

Insofar as your 3rd and 4th requests relate largely to your participation moving forward, I have addressed them together.

The University welcomed and valued the contributions made by both UCU and UNISON to the FM Steering Group and remains committed to your ongoing engagement in all aspects of the activities arising from its work.

To this end, we propose forming a sub-group of the Joint Negotiating and Consultation Committee, specifically for this purpose.  You will shortly receive a request to each nominate a sub-group representative and there is an open invitation for your respective regional representatives to attend any meeting of the sub-group. 

We will aim to hold the first meeting of the sub-group on early-mid September 2018.

  1. Zero hours contracts
    Clarification over which service providers are currently reviewing their zero hours contracts. We are aware Aramark are reviewing their zero-hours contracts but the statement suggests that all contracted out service providers are doing this and perhaps the University itself ‘across our estate’.

I can confirm that Aramark are the only supplier who currently engage individuals on zero hours contracts.  The University does not engage anyone on this form of contract.  Aramark have informed us that their aim is to offer new (alternative) contracts in the new academic year.

  1. Residential Student Life programme
    The link between the Residential Student Life programme and the FM review is unclear. This needs to be unpacked and explained. If the University remains committed to seeking outcomes that are mutually agreeable to employer and employees, then clear, transparent and suitably detailed information must be offered as a key part in achieving this.

The Residential Student Life programme is primarily concerned with the student experiencein our Halls of Residence.  Many of the services to students in halls are provided by the people working for our contracted out suppliers, these include, security, reception, cleaning and portering. With this being the case, we will be considering the best model for the delivery of these services moving forward, in keeping with the aim of introducing an in-house service provision supported by specialist contracts.

As you will expect, the work outlined above will remain a priority for me and senior colleagues over the coming months and we welcome your ongoing engagement as the work progresses.

Best wishes


Whilst this does shed some more light on the matter I’m sure that you’ll have questions (feel free to email us). Committee will be meeting shortly to discuss this further at which point we’ll provide another update.

UCU Senate House Branch Committee

Update on pensions

Dear Members,

I understand that this is a bit of a long one but I wanted for you all to be as informed as possible so please do take the time to read it.

By now most of you will have received an email from HR sent on behalf of USS. The email explained what their plan for cost sharing will look like: 

Under the 2017 valuation that USS approved in November 2017, contributions will eventually rise by 10.6% from 26% of salary (18% employer, 8% member) to 36.6% (24.9% employer, 11.7% member) in order to retain the status quo.

Why is the cost-sharing rule being implemented in USS?
Members will already know that under its current valuation, USS is in deficit. USS has been claiming for months that it is legally obliged to have a plan in place for dealing with that deficit. But the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will not make any decisions about the current valuation until September 2018, and the previous plan to recover the deficit by removing the Defined Benefit element of the scheme was left in tatters after strike action by our members: you!

As a result, USS has chosen to trigger a process known as ‘cost-sharing’, although it is better described by the phrase ‘shared contribution increases’. Under Rules 76.4–8 of the scheme, the trustee can require employers and members to increase their contributions to the rate which they deem sufficient. This decision has been made without the pension regulator’s enforcement – they are still happy for UUK, USS, and UCU to resolve this without their intervention.

We must stay vigilant because there are few signs that UUK has abandoned its long-standing goal of transferring as much of the cost and the risk of pension provision onto employees as possible. Prior to the USS dispute, UUK used a manufactured deficit in USS to represent Defined Benefit pensions as unaffordable. The JEP arose out of USS members’ growing appreciation that the deficit was, in fact, illusory, and the reforms which it had been used to justify were not needed. More information on the JEP can be found on the UCU website at this address: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

Pension Contribution Calculator
Here’s a tool that lets you get an idea of how much more you can expect to pay in contributions under this new plan: https://beta.observablehq.com/@scjoss/uss-cost-sharing.

It’s important to note that UniversitiesUK had the option of taking up the extra member increases themselves should they have wished to do so, but turned it down. That would have been possible by a resolution of the JNC. UCU negotiator Sam Marsh pushed for UniversitiesUK to cover the full burden of interim cost sharing, given strike was entirely UUK’s fault and we’ve already lost a lot of money via strike deductions. This seemed a fair compromise. Again, UUK said no – hence it falls to us all.

Now it looks like USS are prepared to listen to a rethink from UUK on their ‘risk-appetite’ (which if you remember, most said they were willing to stay will current level, with some saying they’d be happy with increase – UUK decided to go with the minority of employers and push through a low-risk appetite strategy). This is an area the JEP are likely to comment on. The hope will be that a change to the Test 1 parameter will lead to a resolution to this dispute but it’s important to keep informed.

Excellent information can be found on https://ussbriefs.com – A website built and populated with content by UCU members volunteering their time and expertise to keep the rest of us informed.

If you have any questions please email ucu@london.ac.uk.

All my best,

Tim Hall
UCU Senate House Branch Chair

Strikes now look like a reality as pension talks end


Dear Members,

As many of you have expressed, there’s a widespread feeling of betrayal by University leaders. UCU are disappointed at how talks ended, particularly after UUK suggested that it wanted more talks to avoid strikes.

We can expect to see continued destruction of our pensions every three years for the foreseeable future as this move, if implemented, will undermine the scheme and thus enter us into cycle of worsening financial performance.

Universities must be on notice that unless there are dramatic changes in their negotiators’ position then strike action will be arriving next month.

You’ll be receiving updates from UCU shortly about this and locally we’re planning to announce a meeting for all staff who risk losing this most treasured benefit.

Meet our National Lay Negotiator and discuss proposed changes to the USS pension scheme next Tuesday 9th at 12.30pm


Dear UCU Members,

USS pension changes – information session for UCU members on 9 January at 12.30pm

Join UCU National Lay Negotiator Dr Carlo Morelli from the University of Dundee and the UCU Senate House committee for a briefing on the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme

When: Tuesday 9 January 2018 at 12.30pm
Where: Senate Room, Senate House
Who can attend: open to UCU members

Evidence indicates that University staff highly value the defined benefit pension offered through USS – it is one of the most valued elements of our employment packages.

We are all therefore very concerned about Universities UK proposals to remove the defined benefit element of the USS pension scheme, bringing an end to the notion of a guaranteed pension and reducing our entitlements by up to 40%.

But what is UCU, both at Senate House and nationally, planning to do in response to these proposals? What do the proposals mean for me? Why are Universities UK proposing this now and why are they rushing through these proposals? What can I do to support this campaign?

See you for this important briefing session on Tuesday at 12.30pm. Tea, coffee and biscuits will be provided.

Best wishes,