USS pension crisis: talks agreed in bid to stave off more university strikes

Representatives of Universities UK, the University and College Union and the Universities Superannuation Scheme aim to find a long-term solution

Five dates have been set for talks between employers, unions and pension representatives as the threat of strike action over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) escalates.

The tripartite summits in January will seek to reform the USS following the publication of the second report from the joint expert panel (JEP).

The report called for meetings between the different parties to resolve problems with the scheme’s valuation process and governance.

Strike action was called last year after the University and College Union (UCU) claimed the first report from the JEP was not enacted. Staff at 60 universities went on strike for eight days in November and December 2019.

Further strike action has been threatened after the UCU announced at the end of last year that it would re-ballot members at 25 universities in January 2020. The deadline for those new ballots will close the day before the final summit.

UCU said the talks could help avert further strike action – likely to impact universities in the spring – and were an opportunity to resolve the dispute.

Chief executive of Universities UK (UUK) Alistair Jarvis, who represents 340 employers, will meet UCU general secretary Jo Grady and USS Group chief executive Bill Galvin for sessions chaired by JEP chair, Joanne Segars.

We are keen to get going with these talks and to work with all parties to look seriously at how we can reform USS
– Jo Grady, UCU

Updates will be published on the JEP website within seven days of each meeting, and further crisis talks could be scheduled if progress is slow. The representatives said they would include the Pensions Regulator in discussions if appropriate.

Mr Jarvis said he hoped the talks would bring about a “long-term solution”, and that UUK remained “committed to ensuring that USS remains one of the very best pension schemes in the country”.

“We’re pleased to be able to move forward quickly with these tripartite talks and encouraged by the strong commitment from all parties to work constructively together,” Mr Jarvis said.

“Priorities for discussion include full consideration of the recommendations of JEP’s second report; jointly agreeing a refreshed scheme purpose and valuation principles; reforming the governance; and exploring different approaches to the valuation methodology for 2020, acknowledging the respective roles of each party in this process,” he added.

Echoing his sentiments, Ms Grady said: “We are keen to get going with these talks and to work with all parties to look seriously at how we can reform USS. If we are to avoid further disruption at universities over USS, then we all need to work together and look at issues like the valuation and the scheme’s governance.”

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