Report from HEC meeting 27 April 2018

This report represents the personal views of Rachel Cohen, NEC member for HE, London and the East and member of CityUCU.

At the Higher Education Committee (HEC) on 27th April, members voted in favour of a report from officials which set out a series of recommendations. These will determine how the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to investigate the USS valuation is constituted and reports. At the Joint Negotiating Committee (between UCU and UUK) later that day the January Defined Contribution proposal was taken off the table. This was a major victory, and the result of our collective action. But the preceding HEC meeting highlighted the need to democratise our union’s spaces or this is not going to be a sustainable victory.

HEC Meeting:

We received the official’s report and recommendations at the start of the meeting (11.05) and were given twenty minutes to read it. When the discussion on this began we were initially allocated 45 minutes. This was later extended to about 1.5 hours, which included a short break for lunch. It also included multiple disputes about how the discussion was structured. The Chair, Douglas Chalmers, ruled that:

  •  we could not amend *anything* in the official’s report, including recommendations, terms of reference, proposed timings, or proposed method of selecting UCU JEP members;
  • that most other motions would fall if we voted through the report even though there was no obvious reason why most were contrary to the report’s recommendations – or why there should be these ‘consequentials’;
  • that we would vote on the official’s report first. This needlessly put people in a bind. For instance, I thought most of the report and recommendations were good, but wanted to amend some parts and did not want to lose the other motions on the table. Therefore I ended up voting against it. This should not have happened.

I and other members of the HEC made formal ‘challenges to the chair’ to overturn these decisions. In all cases these challenges were lost, with a majority voting in favour of the Chair’s organisation of the meeting.

Because time was short the report was introduced by the official, everyone who had submitted a motion was given up to two minutes to propose their motion. We then went straight to vote on the report, with no opportunity to discuss or debate either the report or motions, which contained critical decisions about the JEP and UCU’s involvement in it.

Key points of contention/decision included:

1) The JEP Chair will be approved by the SWG (Superannuation Working Group) and UUK – there are already suggested names that our officials know about, but we were provided with no additional information about who they were or how these people might be selected.

2) The UCU JEP members will be selected by SWG on the basis of a person specification that was distributed. An amendment that would require that SWG shortlist candidates to ensure suitability but that UCU members (either at Congress or via e-ballot) are then given the opportunity to elect our representatives was not permitted as an amendment (based on the logic that we cannot amend reports). It was then submitted as a motion and was judged to have fallen when the report was passed. This means members will have no direct say in our JEP representatives.

3) JEP is expected to issue its first report on the 2017 valuation in Sept 2018. It will then work on more general issues around the valuation. It was not entirely clear how the first report will or will not be constrained in lieu of more general agreements on valuation.

4) A motion that I submitted that would have ensured UCU JEP members are accountable to members (see below) was ruled to have fallen. This would have required regular reports to members, provided a means by which members could contact UCU JEP members and engage with the process and would have scheduled a voting delegate meeting to review the report in September. I argued that transparency and accountability were critical and that there was nothing in this motion that was in conflict with the report, but the Chair insisted that it fell when the report passed. Other motions that called for a special meeting to discuss the ongoing dispute also fell.

5) The terms of reference for the JEP emphasise ‘Confidentiality’ – for ‘all panel meetings’ and ‘all material provided to the panel …whether from the evidence pack, expert witnesses or submitted evidence.’ This was challenged. I asked why transparency wasn’t the default with confidentiality only if and as when absolutely essential. We were told that this ‘would not work’.

6) Several motions that required negotiators or the JEP to take particular positions also fell, including one that required the HEC mandated UCU negotiators to vote in favour of the removal of DC (now achieved via the JNC), removing the proposal for cost sharing and extending the implementation deadline.

7) On equalities (an update because some people have asked about this). There was no mention of equality in the initial specification for JEP members. I submitted an amendment to correct this, but was not permitted to amend this in the meeting for the reasons discussed above. In this case, however, we were assured by the official that it would be included in the final version of the specifications. This is obviously a good thing. But the fact that this can informally be changed highlights that there was no need to prevent amendments to other aspects of the report and recommendations.

The second part of the meeting was spent discussing the pay claim and various other reports. These were less controversial. But time remained short and discussion abbreviated.

This was a thoroughly frustrating meeting. We had a rushed discussion of a critical issue in which key decisions were made without any discussion.

It is likely that the issues relating to UCU internal democracy will be central to discussions at the upcoming UCU Congress. City has submitted a motion on this (see end of previous blog post), as have other branches.

Additional Note:

My motion to HEC: ‘Holding the JEP Accountable’

HEC notes concerns about USS and UUK accountability and transparency and that similar concerns have been raised about the working processes of the JEP.

HEC resolves:
• To name and provide contact information for UCU members of the JEP;
• To provide regular (typically monthly) opportunities for branches and members to receive reports from and ask questions of UCU JEP members;
• To facilitate open calls to a wider group of interested parties, including members, inviting contributions to JEP deliberations around specific topics;
• To call on the JEP to provide an interim report by the start of September 2018, in which any agreed understandings and terms of reference are reported, key points of difference clarified and future reporting and meeting dates of JEP, JNC and USS are detailed;
• To hold a branch delegates meeting, with voting rights and HEC (or ‘National Strike Committee’) to discuss the interim report.

This motion fell because the Chair said it was incompatible with the official’s report and the latter was voted on first and agreed.

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