In view of the decisions at the two recent HE sector conferences it seems appropriate that the UCU negotiators write brief reports for members of each meeting. This is complicated by the fact that all materials are marked ‘restricted business sensitive’ and it is not yet clear what is really is confidential. Confidentiality and transparency with access to information were the main issues discussed. UCU’s position is that transparency should be the default, while recognising that there is a limited need for confidentiality and that this must be justified. The USS position seems to be almost the exact opposite. Despite repeated requests we did not obtain a clear explanation of what was meant by ‘commercially sensitive information’ and ‘contractual confidentiality’, though it seemed that USS would have liked to restrict all documents under one or other of these categories.
We were not happy with a paper on confidentiality and transparency and a draft confidentiality code of conduct, particularly since they seem to have come at least partially in response to a request for a paper on transparency. The paper indicated that moves to greater transparency would lead to the exclusion of sensitive materials from JNC papers and restrict what was in the minutes, particularly with regard to indicating who said what. As part of our responsibility to members, we are happy for them to know what we said in meetings (as long as it is correctly reported) and we presume the same holds for other UCU negotiators. We also need to know what USS is saying. The code of conduct explicitly classifies all documents as confidential and would even require us to modify our current practice of making JNC documents available to all members of the SWG as part of preparing for meetings. It would make it impossible to disclose information to members, in line with the decisions at the sector conferences. We said we would take the document away to look at and discuss in more detail, including in HEC, but it seems to be totally counter to our policy on transparency.
The list of information to be disclosed in the paper on disclosing information to the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was satisfactorily all-encompassing. However, it was followed by restrictive conditions under which information already provided could be withdrawn. We again expressed our concerns and the importance of information being both complete and available in a timely manner. In the end it was agreed to supply initial information and that further work would take place on the conditions to be brought back to the next meeting.
The USS CEO was informed for the first time of the vote calling on him to resign in the discussion of transparency and it indicated to him that this showed the strength of member feelings on the subject. He was informed of this a second time, in case he had not got the message, in the discussion of implementation of the cost sharing rule. USS seem determined to plough ahead with this despite the work of the JEP.
There was also a brief discussion, without decision about tiered contributions. This is an issue on which we do not have any policy and on which consultation with members would be necessary. However, it would have to be within the overall ‘status quo’ policy.
Requests for information included for the detailed calculations of the costs on which USS intends to base contribution sharing. We are, of course, looking to the JEP, backed up, if necessary, by industrial action. Unfortunately, USS is much worse than students at showing working and seems to have difficulties in understanding the concept. Initially, they suggested resending some of the paper we had received already, which was not what I was asking for. USS’s totally unjustified negative preconceptions about the riskiness of DB have led to a near tripling of the deficit recovery contributions. Once the JEP shows that there is no deficit, the need for these contributions will disappear, leaving a surplus. This will then be used, in line with policy agreed at the recent special sector conference, to improve pensions and affordability for casualised and low paid members.
Marion Hersh and Carlo Morelli