Our pension scheme is yet again seemingly under attack by the people who are supposed to be looking after it. This time even the employers’ body Universities UK have made a public statement criticising the valuation.
If you want to know more about the USS pension scheme 2020 valuation, and why everyone wants them to stop trying to put the contributions up unnecessarily, here’s a video of branch pensions rep Mark Taylor-Batty’s fantastic presentation to the branch open meeting on pensions on 11 March 2021, with an update from UCU President Vicky Blake on the national situation.Read more
Members passed the following motions at today’s extraordinary general meeting. The meeting was called to discuss motions on Palestine and Israel, after a late motion couldn’t be heard at the annual general meeting, and to discuss donations to branches on strike.
Leeds University UCU branch offers its solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle to defend their homes and lives. The branch supports events and initiatives in solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Motion 2 passed as amended:
- That as national policy, ‘UCU supports the Friends of Bir Zeit University and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’ (https://ucu.org.uk/internationalsolidarity#ispal) and also supports Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS): https://bdsmovement.net/news/ucu-passes-important-bds-resolution
- That violence in Israel-Palestine has complex origins. It is partly to be seen against the backdrop of European genocide of Jewish people and European colonial policies of the twentieth century.
- That support for Palestinian rights is not to be confused with antisemitism, and that Palestine Solidarity Campaign and other pro-Palestine groups are explicit that they oppose antisemitism alongside all other forms of racism.
The branch believes:
- That UCU’s national policy is appropriate in view of
- the deprivation of people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of their human rights
- The fact that the Israeli state has almost total control over the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories, imposing what both Human Rights Watch and Israel’s largest human rights organisation, B’Tselem have described as an ‘apartheid regime’
- the need for the implementation of Palestinian human rights to make peace, justice, and reconciliation achievable in the region
- That we must communicate our solidarity with Palestine in ways that neither court anti-Semitism in intent nor in how it our statements are likely to be interpreted by good-faith readers, as part of our general commitment to anti-racism.
- That one strategy of people who oppose Palestinian human rights has been to portray solidarity for Palestine and/or criticism of the Israeli state as generally anti-Semitic; that this strategy has proved effective in dampening explicit solidarity with Palestine; and that to be politically effective, our expressions of support for Palestine must expose and explicitly challenge this strategy.
The branch moves:
- To reiterate its solidarity with Palestinian people at the present time with the following statement, which stands as an example of expression of our views. We stand in solidarity with Palestinian people facing oppression both within and outside Palestine. We express our distress at the recent violence in both Gaza and Israel, and especially express our sympathies to all those of our colleagues and students who have been affected by it. We recognise the complex origins of this violence and that it is partly to be seen against the backdrop of European genocide of Jewish people and European colonial policies of the twentieth century. We also recognise the disparities of power in the present situation, however, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians facing both slow and imminent violence by the Israeli state, which is both curtailing the rights of its Palestinian citizens and systematically depriving people in Palestine of their human rights through illegal actions. Without implementation of Palestinian human rights, the tragic and shameful cycle of violence, loss of life and limb, and impact to livelihoods now and in the future will continue, making peace, justice and reconciliation unachievable in the region.
- To implement at the University of Leeds UCU national policy in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, and in line with other universities such as Sheffield University and Sheffield Hallam University, to seek to establish a joint University-UCU anti-apartheid committee to work together to progress the disinvestment talks with management.
Leeds UCU notes:
- Israel’s largest and most influential Human Rights group B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch have both recently published reports defining Israel as an apartheid regime.
- University of Leeds has investments in HSBC, Booking.com and Barclay’s in addition to institutional links with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and IDC Herzliya.
- UCU policy opposes such investments and links with Israel.
- The Leeds University Palestine Solidarity Group has authored an open letter to the VC calling for divestment (http://newaoc.com/leedsu). The letter has got so far more than 180 signatures from staff members, students, alumni and 10 LUU student societies.
- The Leeds UCU Committee has signed the above Open Letter.
Leeds UCU believes:
- The University of Leeds is complicit in the oppression of the Palestinian people and the continuation of Israeli apartheid by investing in HSBC, Booking.com and Barclay’s in addition to maintaining institutional links with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and IDC Herzliya.
- The University should release a statement in support of its Palestinian students and staff members.
- Whilst the University must protect all staff and students against racism including Islamophobia and antisemitism, it should also protect staff and students from unfounded accusations of antisemitism for speaking up for Palestinian human rights.
Leeds UCU resolves to:
- Sign the Open Letter to the VC.
- Release a public statement in solidarity with the Palestinians and in support of the Open Letter and its demands.
Motion 4 – Donation to branches striking over redundancies
This branch agrees to:
- donate £400 to the Liverpool UCU strike fund
- donate £400 to the Leicester UCU strike fund
(Note that the donations agreed by the general meeting are in addition to £100 donations to each branch agreed by the committee.)
Extraordinary general meeting: Palestine + branch strike donations
We have an extraordinary general meeting on Thursday 17 June, 1pm – 2pm, to discuss two items.
An emergency motion was submitted to the annual general meeting about the situation in Palestine that week. The motion wasn’t taken because of there not being enough time to give the motion the necessary time for full debate and instead the president said the committee would arrange an extraordinary general meeting on the subject of the situation in Palestine.
In calling the meeting the committee has also indicated they would like to discuss making donations to UCU branches who are striking.
The deadline for motions on these subjects for this meeting is 1pm Monday 14 June. Motions should be emailed to email@example.com.
General meeting 5 July
Our next ordinary general meeting is Monday 5 July, 12pm – 1pm. If you would like to propose the branch takes a collective view and agrees a plan on an issue, you can submit a motion to firstname.lastname@example.org by the deadline of 12pm on Tuesday 22 June.
UCU members have elected/appointed the branch committee for 1 August 2021 until 31 July 2022.
Immediate past president
Temporary job share of Megan Povey and Ben Plumpton, with a by-election to be held in November/December.
Health and safety officer
Job-share Joanne Armitage and Xanthe Whittaker
Ordinary committee members:
Laura Loyola Hernandez
(*Automatically members of the branch committee as elected by UCU members to national roles.)
Leeds University UCU welcomes the recognition by the University that there is still much uncertainty between now and September, when the next academic year begins. Whilst vaccine progress has been positive, at the time of writing there is a new variant of concern– variant B 2.167.2 – which currently appears to be more transmissible and there may be more variants of concern to come. SAGE – the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies – have stated consistently that there is a high likelihood of a resurgence in hospitalisations and death, either if the vaccine roll out hits problems, or if policies and behaviours adopted to reduce transmission are relaxed too early.
It appears very clear to us that, whilst academic year 2021-22 will be different from 2020-21, it will not represent ‘back to normal’ and we are pleased that the University is recognising this in planning.
We therefore believe that it is appropriate for the university to maintain a hybrid approach to learning and teaching, ensuring that it remains possible to retain COVID mitigations, such as social distancing, well ventilated spaces and hygiene measures. All plans need to allow for the possibility of moving online only if the worst happens and there is serious resurgence of cases.
It is particularly important that all university plans allow staff or students who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate immediately, as that will be critical in keeping case numbers low. We also note that, even after a vaccine roll-out, it remains the case that some staff and students are more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19; the university has a duty of care towards those people to allow them to work flexibly and not to put themselves at risk.
The successes of this academic year are down to the tremendous efforts of all staff on the ground, whether they be student education service staff, library and digital education service staff, staff in residences, cleaning staff, academics and many others. Whilst for some the end of the academic year is in sight, for others the intensity continues over the summer teaching and supporting postgraduates, managing admissions and many other things. This magnificent effort should not be taken for granted by management. In many cases, it has been at the expense of work/life balance, family life, and general health and well being. In planning for next year, the university needs to ensure that workloads are healthy and reasonable, that the differential impacts of this ongoing crisis on different groups of staff are recognised and acted upon, and that staff are not subject to the devastation of redundancy, whether they are on ‘permanent’ or fixed term contracts.
From email sent to branch members 6 May 2021
I expect you’ve heard about the Governments latest plans to decimate arts provision in Higher Education – see for example https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/may/06/plans-for-50-funding-cut-to-arts-subjects-at-universities-catastrophic
A 50% cut to arts funding would be disastrous both across the UK and for this university and our amazing arts schools.
I am writing to urge you to support the Public Campaign for the Arts, see https://www.campaignforthearts.org/petitions/stop-the-50-percent-funding-cut-to-arts-subjects-in-higher-education/ by signing their petition.
Also, the government is holding an extremely short consultation about this, due to end at 23:59 today. You can input to this consultation here:
Please do this if you possibly can.
Please share this widely, including on social media.
University of Leeds UCU President
The branch annual general meeting will now be Thursday 20 May 2021, same time 3.45pm – 5pm. (Postponed from Thursday 13 May.)
That means the deadline for standing for the branch committee is now the end of Wednesday 19 May.
Text from email sent to members 21 April 2021
The USS pension scheme recently calculated that on a ‘best estimate’ basis, our pension scheme is £4bn in surplus.* ‘Best estimate’ (or ‘unbiased estimate’) means that this scenario is considered 50% likely to happen. The legal requirement for submitting a pension valuation, however, is that the calculations are done on a ‘prudent’ not ‘best estimate’ basis. ‘Prudent’, in this context, means more than 50% likely to happen. The £4bn surplus, then, is a starting point for those calculations, and the more ‘prudence’ is applied to them the lower the theoretical value of the scheme.
You will have heard of there being a significant deficit in the scheme, and it is likely that this has been represented to you as a fact, and probably without any reference to the ‘best estimate’ surplus. As a consequence of this narrated ‘deficit’, we are told, we must consider a possible reduction in our pension benefits – the amount we can rely on as income in retirement.
This ‘deficit’ is the mathematical consequence of applying excessive prudence to that best estimate surplus. Some people will argue that the deficit is a result of factors such as increased longevity and market conditions, and yet the Superannuation Arrangements of the University of London pension scheme (SAUL) recently posted a surplus in their valuation, not a deficit. If a surplus/deficit was really only down to market conditions and demographic features, as some would have us believe, then SAUL too would have posted a deficit. But market conditions etc. are simply some of the ingredients in the calculation of a valuation. It is the recipe that is used that ultimately defines the valuation, and the management of assets and liabilities are very different in SAUL and USS.
One of the key factors in a valuation, more so than longevity and market conditions, is a thing called the ‘discount rate’. This is because a valuation is not about whether there is an account currently in the red or black (in fact the USS assets are currently valued at £80bn, and less than £2bn is needed to be paid out annually, with more than £2bn coming in annually – the scheme remains cash-flow positive with growing assets). Instead, what a valuation does is ask if the current value of the assets matches the current size of all the future pensions that have been promised to date – yours and mine. Fundamentally that is a good question, though it is less crucial in an open and healthy scheme such as ours than in a closing or closed scheme. The ‘discount rate’ in effect is the amount by which you believe those assets will grow over time (because if you have a debt to pay long in the future, you don’t need to hold the full amount now if you can earn returns on it in the interim). As part of their excessively prudent approach, USS are suggesting that the assets will grow at around CPI + 0%, which is to say pretty much not at all – excessive prudence. That is a significantly dominant ingredient in their valuation recipe. Everything that you hear now about the ‘deficit’ has its origins here in decisions that USS make about the valuation.
The university will soon be sending round a survey of members, and the UUK template we have seen is disappointing, steering toward a pooled acceptance of benefit detriment. The UCU hopes to work with the university to make meaningful adjustments to this survey before it goes out, but please look out for communications from us at the point at which it is released.
Please alert colleagues in USS who are not UCU members to this post or forward the email on to them – we represent them too in matters of USS.
Do come to the UCU General Meeting tomorrow, at which we are proposing a motion on USS. See Ben’s email of earlier this afternoon.
There is a national Defend USS meeting this Friday that you might wish to sign up for: http://bit.ly/PensionFightBack
Pensions representative, University of Leeds UCU
*This figure is quoted in a First Actuarial note, quoting USS materials. First Actuarial themselves offer a ‘best estimate’ of £14bn surplus. The disparity is due to FA’s calculations being based on the actual assets that are held by USS, whereas USS calculates based on a theoretical model portfolio – another baked in aspect of prudence in any calculation of valuation.
Here are some recent links:
ABC of USS, jargon explained: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/the-abc-of-uss-a-guide-to-the-jargon-that-surrounds-our-pension-scheme/
USS bite-sized: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/uss-pensions-bite-sized/
The cost of opting out: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/opting-out-of-the-uss-at-what-cost/
A crisis in USS governance: https://www.hepi.ac.uk/2021/04/06/the-uss-trustees-governance-crisis/
The health and safety work of trade unions has been very important in the last year. As your branch Health and Safety Officer, I’ve been working to raise your concerns about the pandemic, improve guidance, inspect buildings and liaise with the other campus unions. I’ve spent many many hours in meetings to represent all our interests and improve safety for staff and students. All of us involved in safety on the union side feel this work has made a significant difference in improving the university’s approach, but we know there are still many concerns which continue to arise.
On a local level, some schools and departments have elected departmental health and safety reps. These have been crucial in discovering and acting on specific issues. If your part of the university doesn’t have an elected UCU H&S rep., would you consider taking this on? (You can check if your area has a rep at http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/about-us/departmental-representatives/). The role involves keeping an eye open for local health and safety issues, raising them with the local H&S team, representing UCU on your local health and safety committee, and liaising with the branch H&S Officer. UCU can provide optional training (which starts with a 3 day H&S course) and you are entitled by law to necessary time off for H&S duties.
The annual Workers Memorial Day is coming up on Wednesday 28th April. It’s a day when we commemorate those who have lost their lives at work, or from work-related injury or ill health. This year of course, we will particularly remember those workers who have died from COVID-19. So this year more than ever, it’s important to renew our H&S efforts, to organise collectively and to prevent work-related health issues. In our Leeds UCU branch, we want to mark the day by supporting more members to become local H&S reps. And thus better ensure the health and safety of staff and students.
Or if you decide now that you would like to stand as a local H&S rep, please email email@example.com expressing your willingness to stand. Then we’ll need two colleagues in your area who are UCU members to email firstname.lastname@example.org nominating you for the role. If there are nominations for more than one person, there’s a possibility of job sharing or the committee will organise an election.
The deadline for nominations is Monday 26th April.
Leeds UCU Health and Safety Officer
This post has been edited as the AGM date has been changed from 13 May to 20 May.
A reminder that UCU branch Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be at 3.45pm – 5pm on Thursday 20 May. The meeting will be on Zoom (link to follow nearer the time).
(Not to be confused with the general meeting this Thursday lunchtime that I emailed about yesterday.)
Traditionally we all have tea and coffee and cake from 3.30pm before the AGM, and we’re still going to do that, but you’ll need to provide your own tea and cake!
The deadline for motions to the AGM is 12pm on Tuesday 27 April. Please email any motions to email@example.com.
Nominations for the branch committee for the next academic year need to be with the branch administrator by the end of Wednesday 19 May (the day before the AGM).
There is lots of information on the website about standing for the branch committee, including the different roles, the nominations process and the importance of ensuring the committee is representative of the whole membership. Ben Plumpton has offered to have a chat with anyone who is thinking of standing and would like to know more, and I’m happy to do that as well (as are probably all of this year’s committee members).
From email sent to members 16 April 2021
You’ll have seen from the General Meeting agenda circulated yesterday that we’ll be discussing a motion about the UK Research and Innovation Official Development Assistance funding cuts at our branch meeting next week, to go forward to the union’s Higher Education Committee.
Before then, your UCU committee would like to find out more about who is affected and what’s happening on the ground so that we can better support members and campaign against these cuts. We have set up a special meeting for UCU members about this next Tuesday, 20th April, from 1-2 pm on Teams (see email for link).
Locally, your branch negotiators have raised serious concerns with management, and we received an update from the deputy vice-chancellor for research, at the Organisational Change Group meeting this Monday. The timescales that the government have imposed for this have been incredibly tight, and we know that universities must respond to UKRI by today (16th April) with their proposals. We understand that 16 major projects at Leeds are affected, many involving international partners, and at various stages. The DVC told us that replacement funding had been found for about half of the cuts but there is still a significant shortfall. We argued, and will continue to argue, that the university should cover this shortfall from reserves and honour all staff contracts.
If this affects you, please come to Tuesday’s meeting. If you can’t make that time, please let us know by email to firstname.lastname@example.org what’s happening in your area.
Also, if you signed the Open Letter about this you will have received an update from the letter organisers on Monday, about the publicity they have generated and the lack of response from UK government, and encouraging you to write to your MP. Please do – I have attached their template letter but please add examples and personal insights. They are hopeful that creating sufficient pressure can prevent further cuts next year. You can find your MP and write to them via https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mps/
Branch Secretary, University of Leeds UCU