‘We are heading towards another round of industrial action’ – UCU general secretary-elect

USS annual report shows satisfaction in the pension scheme has dropped 40% in two years

The general secretary-elect of the University and College Union (UCU) has said there may be further strikes over pensions.

Jo Grady was speaking in response to a Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) survey of its members which found satisfaction in the pension provider has dropped 40% in two years.

She said: “Considering the complaints around governance this year, we are extremely concerned that USS appears to be cherry-picking what statistics to include in the report. Why are the member satisfaction figures missing?

We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because universities are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions which USS has demanded – Jo Grady

“We want employers to use their considerable influence to hold USS’s managers to account. We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because universities are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions which USS has demanded.

“Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make scheme members pay more for the same pension.”

The USS’s annual report has seen the share of members reporting a positive relationship with the scheme fall from 53% in 2016/17 to 31% in 2018/19.

USS aimed to achieve a 50% ‘positive relationship’ score this year.

Figures measuring satisfaction with the scheme – which were collected in 2016/17 and 2017/18 – were not collected this year.

UCU’s ‘no deficit’ position is simply not viable in this regulatory environment – UUK spokesperson

In its report, USS said of the declining figures: “We have analysed these results, and clearly the impact of the scheme valuation and views of our handling of that process are strong drivers of the outcome.

“The largest group of members (46%) have a neutral view of the scheme, and less than a quarter (23%) hold a negative view. Feedback from members, both through the annual surveys and other consultations, is informing our priorities as we work hard to ensure members value and trust USS and the service we provide.”

In his foreword, Prof Sir David Eastwood, chair of the USS trustee board, said: “We acknowledge the challenges in levying higher contributions and have worked hard to find ways in which these can be escalated gradually, or made contingent on events.

“Ultimately, there are no easy answers to the challenges and competing pressures we face, but we are committed to working with our stakeholders to find a way forward that protects all that is good about USS.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK), which represents employers in the scheme, said: “UCU’s ‘no deficit’ position is simply not viable in the regulatory environment within which USS operates, and is not a realistic outcome for the 2018 valuation.

“It is also clear that many employers would not be able to absorb 100% of the required contributions increases without material changes to their operating model, including reducing staffing costs.

“Employers are instead committing to pay an extra £250 million per year into the scheme to maintain the current level of benefits for scheme members, and in doing so would be bearing two thirds of the increases, as set out in the scheme rules. It is fair and reasonable that members also pay their share.”

In its response to the annual report – which also provides an update on strategy, governance and finances – UCU said: “The report also shows that the number of staff being paid over £100,000 is now 131 (up from 128 the previous year). The highest earner at the scheme took home between £1.75m and £1.8m last year, which is a considerable increase on the best paid staff member from the previous year who earned between £1.1m and £1.15m.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Grady said pensions were “a defining issue”.

“If we don’t stand up for this, what we are allowing is the managed decline of our pension scheme. Professions are defined by their terms and conditions and benefits, and secure retirement and pension income is one of those things.”

UCU is balloting members for strike action from 9 September to 31 October.


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