Agreed at its meeting on March 16, 2018.
This College, like others in Cambridge, feels frustrated by this week’s process in which a decision was required by UUK to a question that formally allows for no nuance in its answer and on a timescale incompatible with the ability of its members to respond collectively. In September, in the original UUK survey on pensions, the questions were equally un-nuanced, a fact that has almost certainly contributed to today’s unhappy situation. A Charity Trustee body, or a committee acting on such a body’s behalf, has to be on very sure ground to say yes to a question that asks simply if it is willing to accept more risk, as such an answer is easily seen to be inconsistent with its primary fiduciary responsibilities. We feel that this manner of ‘consultation’ has been very unhelpful and has contributed to the current sorry state of affairs. Furthermore, as many others have said, the basis on which calculations have been based seems flawed and unwarranted; adequate justifications for these have never been made by your team.
Our response to UUK’s latest request, submitted by the UUK deadline by email and made explicitly longer than a simplistic yes or no in order to reflect more precisely the nuance we feel this matter warrants, spells out that we are willing to support an improved offer (relative to the one rejected this week).
As a college, we have a strong sense of community and wish to support our members who are struggling at this difficult time. Although the focus has been on academics, we are conscious that, like some other Cambridge colleges, the majority of USS members from the College are non-academic staff, not academics; these people are just as deserving of attention; their struggles in the face of pension cuts will be just as acute.
The original proposal generated real fear amongst early career academics about the potential loss of pension that would have been imposed; this fear is tangible and real, the more so as the academic profession is becoming increasingly uncertain. Many of these younger members (be they employed through the college or elsewhere in the university) saw a guaranteed and substantial pension as a trade-off to the not entirely rosy set of conditions and pay under which many of them now labour. (While we do our best to ameliorate such conditions, we are bound to a significant degree by realities across the wider sector, especially where younger academics — who do not have tenure-track positions in the college or the university, and who are therefore looking elsewhere for future career opportunities — are concerned.) The potential loss of pension for younger colleagues is something about which many older colleagues are extremely angry.
The Governing Body of Churchill urges you to engage from this point in an open manner with both employers and employees to find a swift solution to the impasse. Such a resolution will only be achieved by working with the transparency that the Master has already urged upon you in her letter of 8 March 2018, to which answer is still awaited. We also believe strongly that:
- Appointing an external communications firm to ‘improve capacity’ is hardly appropriate or adequate. This is not a question of getting the message across better. It is the message that is the problem.
- We appreciate the role of the Pensions Regulator in this dispute and that a further view from them is expected, but the lack of transparency about their judgements is (and has been) very unhelpful.
- It is crucial to find a speedy interim solution that will provide an appropriate external panel the time to revisit the valuation and all the assumptions on which it is based in due course. We are pleased to learn UUK intends to set up such a group and encourage this to be done with all possible speed. It is vital that its membership is wide-ranging, expert and demonstrably impartial.
- It is also vital that the panel’s findings are communicated openly to the community – including all the assumptions on which they are based.
- When a new deal is reached, both an appropriate time to respond and an appropriate framing of questions in any consultation are required.
It is critical that all at UUK do everything in their power to rebuild the trust that has been sadly squandered in recent months. The damage to the sector is huge. Confidence in the ability of the UUK leadership to resolve this dispute is rapidly waning.