Pensions: Our Response to Charlie Jeffery

USS_IconFollowing Professor Charlie Jeffery’s email to staff (13 Nov), UCU Edinburgh has through the Joint Unions Liaison Committee (JULC) requested answers to the following questions via the Combined Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee (CJCNC).   

Our first set of questions arise from the email; these are followed by three supplementary questions. The italicised statements below are all taken from Professor Jeffery’s email, we would like answers to the ensuing questions.


“We, along with all other Universities that offer USS, were asked to respond to a number of questions on the USS Technical Assumptions, the method used to value the pension scheme.”

Can JULC have a copy of the University’s response to the USS Technical Assumptions, preferably ahead of our meeting (on the understanding that this would be kept confidential)?


“Our response was considered and agreed by a special Sub Committee of Court. “ 

JULC would like to know the following:

1) What was the membership of the sub-committee?

2) Has the full Court seen the response? Does it agree with it?

3) Has CMG seen the response? Does it agree with it?

4) Can we see the minutes of any meetings this sub-committee had?


“We said that we wanted the outcome to be something that is seen by staff to be fair and in their best interests.”  

Does University management believe the current UUK proposal is fair and in the best interests of staff?

If not, what steps have or will be taken to stress to UUK that their proposal does not meet this University’s criteria as communicated to staff?


“We confirmed that we would be willing to maintain the current level of employer contribution at 18%.

We also said that we were willing to consider alternative proposals for the amount of contribution if it would secure the long-term sustainability of the scheme.”

What consideration was given to increasing employer contributions in the line with the recommendations of the Trustees and why was this option rejected?

Do you acknowledge that the current proposal, while keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% results in an actual reduction in the amount going into fund future staff pensions from the employers as a higher amount is set aside for past deficit reduction, administration and costs? Is the implication that you would be prepared to pay more than 18%?


“We emphasised the importance of future pension arrangements being sustainable; attractive; valued; flexible; predictable and stable. 

We believe the current UUK proposal is none of these and especially it is not predictable, since Individual Defined Contribution schemes offer no guarantees. Again, what message will you send to UUK regarding their failure to meet your criteria?


“We recognised that there will be expectations from staff to maintain a defined benefit structure for USS.” 

Is the University committed in any way to supporting the expectations of staff?


” However, we expressed concern that changes to the threshold for defined benefit or a reduction in the accrual rate would be unlikely to solve the structural problem associated with USS, given the continuing issues around sustainability.” 

Do you recognise that any ‘structural problem’ with USS results purely from a ‘recklessly prudent’ approach to the valuation methodology? The fund takes in more than it pays out and on a best estimate valuation has an £8 billion surplus.


“We expressed particular concern about the impact of an unsustainable scheme on our staff, as well as on our institution. ”

 Why do you think the scheme is unsustainable, given that it brings in more than it pays out, is a last man standing scheme, backed by the employers’ covenant and ultimately the PPF?

Are you backing out of your covenant commitments?  If senior managements elsewhere are not committed to the covenant, what will you do to convince them to keep their promises?


“We recognised that maintaining the current structure would not address the recent trend of increasing deficits in the scheme (caused by liabilities growing faster than assets).” 

Again, do you recognise that the idea of liabilities growing faster than assets is

only true of the notional valuation and not of the actual performance of the Scheme as it is currently invested? If you do, then how can you communicate this to staff?


“This trend is driven by factors substantially out with our control or that of the Trustees. This could mean that the scheme might require regular review and possible further amendment.  We were concerned that constant revisions to the scheme benefits and structure might lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the scheme from the membership!”

 Do you realise that any lack of confidence in the scheme seems to rest solely with the pensions regulator, based on their lack of trust in the employers fulfilling their covenant?

Early discussion seemed to indicate that a majority of employers favoured some form of Defined Benefit.

What evidence do you have that the UUK negotiators are reflecting the majority position of employers, given e.g. the statement by the VC of Warwick that he is mystified by the proposals?


“We therefore stated that we thought it important to agree changes that would provide stability for the longer term. We proposed that detailed work should be done to develop options, including for a good quality, robust defined contribution scheme.

This work should clearly draw out the implications for employees of any move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme, including the greater flexibility to access pension benefits in defined contribution schemes, resulting from recent changes in the law.

We were very clear in our response that we want to incentivise savings for retirement and do NOT want any changes to lead to any reduction in employers’ payment towards pension provision.  “

Again, do you acknowledge that keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% does result in a reduction of the amount being invested in future pension provision?


“We want the outcome to be a pension package that offers a high degree of certainty and is valued and supported by staff.” 

Given that the current proposal by UUK offers near zero certainty of anything, will you put to them that they need to come up with something better?


“We also recognised that this is an extremely complex area and suggested that robust yet simple models should be developed as the discussions progress so that staff can see clearly the implications of the final proposals. “

 Can we assume from this that you have so far seen no calculations as to what staff expectations might be? Can you please insist on this immediately?


Supplementary Questions

  1. Would you support an alternative to Individual Defined Contribution (IDC)such as Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) or a Wage in Retirement scheme (WinRS)?
  2. If the UUK proposals for IDC go ahead would you support opening to staff better alternatives to USS such as TPS?
  3. After a decade of reductions in benefits for increases in contributions, staff no longer trust USS. Similarly, given their reluctant acquiescence to such changes, employers no longer trust USS. If the UUK proposals go ahead would you agree to providing the same increases in salary in lieu of employer and employee pensions contributions, for staff wishing to quit USS, which you give to staff who have reached the Lifetime Allowance for pensions?
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USS Ballot – Use Your Voice

ucu_usspension_animated_crop_1

UCU’s higher education committee has agreed to launch an industrial action ballot in the dispute over the future of USS. They have said serious and sustained industrial action is required in the face of damaging proposals from the employers which would effectively destroy the pension scheme.

Your pension is under attack

  • The employers want to end guaranteed pension benefits.
  • They say your final pension should depend on how your ‘investments’ perform and not on your contributions.
  • We say it’s wrong to risk our members’ futures.
  • Vote Yes to strike action.
  • Vote Yes to action short of a strike.

The postal strike ballot opens on Wednesday 29 November

More details

Strike, 14th June

Our branch will be on strike on June 14.

Pickets will primarily be at Old College from 9-11am on June 14, where
there will be a meeting of the influential Central Management Group. If
you plan to picket or would like to volunteer to be a picket captain,
please email ucu@ed.ac.uk. Alternatively, on June 14, just come to the
union office at 12 Buccleuch Street at 8:45am to find where available
picket locations are.

A social event with light food will be follow at 11am-1pm (location to be
confirmed). Even if you aren’t available for picketing, feel free to stop
by and say hello to fellow members. This will also be a forum for people
to discuss anything they wish to raise.

The issues are pay, casualisation, and the gender pay gap. More
information can be found at www.ucu.org.uk.

You are NOT legally required to inform your line manager about your plans
for strike action before striking, and we recommend you do not. However,
you must answer truthfully if asked by your line manager after the fact.

We appreciate that June 14 is very soon. This is the first time that UCU
branches are striking on different dates at different universities across
the country. The national leadership decided that in the current
industrial action, each branch should select a day in June or July that
would be most effective locally. At this stage in the industrial dispute,
the branch committee was unwilling to call a strike on a day when a small
number of members would be much more strongly affected than the rest of
us, such as the graduation day for a particular school. Within this
constraint, we believe that June 14 is the most effective strike date in
the next two months.

We were legally obliged to wait until UCU nationally had officially
notified the University before issuing this notice to members.
Unfortunately this has led to you hearing both from both Sally Hunt and
UoE in advance of our notice, for which we apologise.

Strike Information (25 & 26 May)

strike1Volunteers needed

The Committee would be very grateful for as many members as possible to participate in the picket lines, or to assist in the branch office, on Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th May. Please email ucu@ed.ac.uk if you’re able to help out.

Notifying UoE – your rights

The Committee is aware that some managers are being rather insistent in their requests for information on whether members will be taking strike action. You are under no obligation to tell them in advance – UCU HQ has already provided the University with the information required by law.

The UCU Strike FAQ page (https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikefaqs) states:

Q:           Do I have to tell my employer that I am taking strike action?

A:            It is often the case that managements will send out formal-sounding letters telling you to declare in advance whether you will be taking industrial action. This can have the effect of misleading and intimidating members. To be clear, you are under NO OBLIGATION to inform management in advance as to whether you will be taking part in strike action or action short of a strike. In order to fulfil legal requirements, employers have been provided with statistical information about UCU members taking industrial action, but not individual names. However, if your manager asks you after the strike whether you took action, you should answer truthfully.

Organising meeting

There will be a strike planning meeting on Monday 23rd May at 1pm to 2pm at the branch office, 12 Buccluech Street.

Out-of-office notices

The committee suggests that members may wish to set up an automatic email reply, on the days of the strike, saying “I will not reply to email until May 27, as I am on strike”, “Email messages will not be replied to until May 27, because of the industrial action called by UCU”, or something similar.