Birkbeck Master urges further pension talks

Professor David Latchman writes to UUK calling for continued talks with UCU to build on progress which has been made.

The Master of Birkbeck, Professor David Latchman, has written to Universities UK urging that progress made this week at ACAS over changes to the university pension scheme is not wasted and is used instead as the basis for further discussion.

In his letter to UUK chief executive Alistair Jarvis, Professor Latchman said “meaningful progress” had been made and that further talks should build on the new proposals to provide an “affordable and sustainable” solution.

With a statutory consultation over changes to the USS pension due to begin on March 19, Professor Latchman has also called for the new proposals to be used in that consultation rather than the proposals drawn up in January.

Proposed changes to the pension scheme have led to the current period of 14 days’ strike action by members of the UCU. The union has been in talks with UUK at ACAS for several days to find a solution, but the resulting joint set of proposals was rejected by the UCU's Higher Education committee and branch representatives on Tuesday. Further strike action is expected in coming months. The College will continue to work locally to support students and their studies.

In today’s letter to UUK, Professor Latchman writes: “The prospect of further action impacting on the education of students is an obvious immediate concern to us all, as is the wider impact in terms of the general perception of the sector of further dispute.

“On the positive side, it is clear that meaningful progress has been made in the ACAS process. The recognition that genuine issues of valuation need to be resolved as the basis for agreement on long term changes to USS is vital. The proposition that the retention of defined benefits could form the basis of a solution that is affordable and sustainable is welcome. As you will know that is very much in line with the view we have taken and which has emerged in the light of the propositions and information we have received from all sides.

“We will encourage UCU to return to discussions and think that it is vital that UUK likewise signal their willingness to return to talks publicly and early.  The proposition that the dispute simply escalates with both sides standing off from dialogue should be equally unacceptable to UUK and UCU.  It provides very weak ground to manage the concerns of our students and wider public and political concern.

“Our understanding, given the ticking clock in relation to the valuation statutory deadline in June is that if the UUK side of the JNC do not propose the ACAS scheme now, the situation will revert to consultation on the original 23 January proposals and potentially their implementation by default.  Birkbeck does not want to see that happen.  We want, as you will, mutual agreement. However, at the very least we want the revised ACAS proposals to be the basis for the USS consultation, assuming such consultation must now start. When set against the original proposals they are preferable and more in line with our views and the views of our staff.”