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USS LATEST: Professor Toope calls the proposal a solid starting point for the union and employers to work together towards a solution.

As we head towards Easter, I wanted to update you on where we are with the pensions dispute.

As you know, the UCU has agreed to ballot members on a proposal to create a Joint Expert Panel, made up of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides.

I welcome the idea of a joint expert panel to review the valuation and to look at changes in benefits and contributions. It is worth repeating that Cambridge is prepared to make higher pension contributions and take more risk to achieve an interim pension solution that retains Defined Benefit. For the avoidance of doubt, Cambridge accepts the level of risk implied by the Trustee’s proposals and assumptions in its September 2017 valuation.

I also welcome the proposal to continue discussion on long-term options for the scheme, as well as the desire to reform negotiating processes to create more constructive dialogue.

I realise there are still concerns about the current proposal, but in order to provide greater certainty we have suggested the following points to UUK.

  1. that the minimum position is the ACAS-conciliated agreement rather than the original January Defined Contribution proposal,
  2. that the ACAS-conciliated agreement is subject to improvement on the recommendation of the expert panel, and
  3. the USS Trustee should be asked to confirm that if there is a significant change that flows from the work of the panel and that cannot be implemented in time for the benefit change in April 2019, these changes can be introduced earlier than the next review in three years' time following an interim valuation.

I believe this offers a solid starting point for the union and employers to work together to ensure an acceptable interim solution and the way forward to a long-term resolution of pension provision for the sector.

We are still a long way from a resolution to this dispute. It is clear that significant steps are needed to rebuild trust and create a better and more representative system of negotiation. The frustration of employees and employers with the current negotiating system is palpable.

I know the depth of feeling of staff, but I have also heard the anxiety of students facing a key examination period. Staff, including many of those on strike, have been working hard to support our students. But we cannot allow students to continue to suffer from uncertainty and potential serious disruption of their lives. I hope the current proposal provides a sufficient path to a solution to allow staff to suspend industrial action for the sake of our students.

I think it is worth reiterating what the University wants to do to rebuild and maintain trust with its staff:

  1. I have already announced that staff who have gone on strike should not have to reschedule teaching without compensation. Staff in Cambridge will be paid for teaching that they reschedule, and
  2. I have also already announced we will not deduct pay from those taking action short of a strike.

In addition, in relation to pay deductions for strike days, staff may opt to have those deductions phased over three months where the deductions have not already occurred.  Staff who would like to take advantage of this arrangement should contact Mairead Staples, Employee Relations Adviser (industrial.action@admin.cam.ac.uk).

I look forward to continuing to work with everyone to resolve this conflict and continue to deliver the excellence in research and education that underpins Cambridge’s global reputation.