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Archive for April, 2010

After no progress in the consultation meetings with management over the threat to make staff compulsorily redundant, UCU are now forced to take industrial action.  The UCU ballot gave a majority in favour of strike action and following branch meetings where members again endorsed strike action we are initially going on strike on Wednesday 5th May in support of the following demands:

1. Withdrawal of the threat of compulsory redundancies.
2. Freezing of all job losses until a joint assessment of their impact has been made.
3. Meaningful negotiations with the recognised trades’ unions, aimed at agreeing ways of avoiding compulsory redundancies, minimising the number of jobs at risk, achieving cost savings through voluntary means, natural wastage and reduction of non-staff costs.
4. Where savings are necessary, this to be achieved over a period of 2-3 years.
5. Offer of a voluntary severance package across the whole University.

We want to reiterate that this action has been forced on us by the refusal of the VC and his senior management team to remove the threat of compulsory redundancies.  We have repeatedly asked management to engage with us in discussing how to avoid compulsory redundancies without success. This is all the more puzzling given our recent discovery that the university’s finances are nowhere near as bad as the VC has led us to believe, and that, moreover, it is management action – for example, in taking out a lease on 101 New Cavendish Street – that has led to the deficit and hence their desire to cut our jobs.

What happens next?

We are going on strike on Wednesday 5th May!  We will be organizing picket lines at all four campuses.  Please sign up to take part in a picket line by contacting us at ucu@wmin.ac.uk or by contacting one of your local campus branch officers.   We are calling on ALL members to support the strike – to defend our jobs and our students’ education!

We are in the process of holding/calling branch meetings to discuss strike arrangements – please make every effort to attend to discuss the arrangements for your campus.

Finally, on the 4th May, UCU and Unison will have a meeting with management, at which we will present management with a chance to remove the threat of compulsory redundancies. If no positive progress is made at that meeting, if management continue to threaten ourjobs, our livelihoods and our students’ education, then the strike will go ahead as planned.

After 5th May, there will be another opportunity for management to respond positively to our demands.  We will also call new branch meetings to discuss the next phase of industrial action – both strike and non-strike.

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Last Thursday saw the end of the 90-day “consultation period” between management and unions.  Although more such “consultation” meetings are scheduled to take place, the legally-required period is finished – dead and done.  You might ask why we’ve put the word consultation in inverted commas – well, this is just our post-modern comment on the fact that the word has different meanings for management and unions.

Nothing more starkly illustrates how management have treated staff and their unions throughout this consultation period than how they have explained the causes of the deficit our university faces this year and next.   Anyone who has read management emails or watched the VC’s little cameo videos (we are still waiting for the Downfall parody on youtube) will know that management have not tired of telling us that we have a 5.3m deficit this year and a projected 11m deficit next year “if no management action is taken”.

Despite numerous requests for information about these figures throughout the 90 days of consultation, it was only last Tuesday that we found out how these figures were arrived at – straight from the Director of Finance.  So, as they say on the TV series Glee, let us “break it down for you”.

2009/10

  • Total Income: £168.8m
  • Recurrent Staff costs: £102.5m
  • One-off, non-recurrent factors: £6.5m
  • Total staff costs: £108.9m = 102.5 + 6.5m (not £109m due to rounding)
  • Ratio of staff costs to income (inc. one-off costs): 63%
  • Ratio of staff costs (recurring only): 60.7%

What could the one-off costs be?  Most likely, it’s the money set aside for severance payments.  Note also that it’s larger than the deficit, which raises an intriguing question.  Would the university be in deficit if it didn’t get rid of any staff?  Also interesting is the fact that, considering the Governors insistence on a KPI of the 60% ratio of staff costs to income, recurring staff costs are only 60.7% of income.

2010/11

  • Income: £169.5m
  • Total staff costs: £110m.

Actually, the staff costs look really a lot!  Wow, £102.5m to £110m in one year!  But, handily, the Director of Finance provides a guide to how this increase was arrived at.  Most of it is £0.9m for “increased staff costs related to increased research income”, and £6.7m for “2010/11 inflationary factors.”  This means management are expecting a whopping 6.5% inflation in staff costs!  Is this for real?

But the eagle-eyed and highly numeric among you will have noticed that £0.9m plus £6.7m don’t add up to a deficit of £11m.  And you’d be right.  About £0.7m is for adjustment of staff costs to be 60% of income at £169.9m, plus … £2.7m for the lease on Cavendish House.  Thanks to the foresight of senior management, despite the empty space going begging at Harrow, it seems we need a NEW building – hooray!  For which, despite the desperate state of the university’s finances, we’re going to stump up £2.7m in 2010/11, which – at £60K per job – is worth about 45 jobs! (And that’s just the start of the costs of Cavendish House.)

What is the conclusion, then?  Well, in the opinion of this blog writer, it means that the deficit doesn’t exist.  This year’s deficit has been created by a one-off number which won’t exist next year.  Next year’s deficit has been created by a truely unbelievable “inflation factor” plus the lease on Cavendish House.

And for this, we are losing front-line academic and support jobs – real people losing their livelihoods for imaginary deficits!  Nice one, Geoff!

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Congratulations…

… to Robin Law, Jade Lori Baker and Fatima Hagi on winning in the University of Westminster Student Union Elections.  Robin was elected as president, Jadi as VP Education, and Fatima as student trustee.  They campaigned with a “Stop the Cuts – Shake Up Your Union” message, and won, so we hear, by a landslide!

Congratulations and good luck from UCU!

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The following is a press release hot off the presses from UCU (see also the UCU website)

UNIVERSITY AND COLLEGE UNION (UCU)
PRESS RELEASE

date: Wednesday 21 April 2010
for immediate release

Capital university crisis as staff at University of Westminster and UCL join list of London universities voting for strike action

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the University of Westminster and University College London (UCL), have today (Wednesday) voted in favour of both strike action and action short of a strike in their fights to save jobs.

At Westminster 63% of UCU members who voted, voted for strike action and 85% voted for action short of a strike. AT UCL 61% of UCU members who voted, voted for strike action and 64% voted for action short of a strike.

The news comes as UCU members at the University of Arts London (UAL) look likely to ballot for industrial action and less than a month after staff at King’s College went on strike. The union said that today’s results were indicative of the strength of feeling among UCU members across the country over savage funding cuts and damaging job losses. Nearly 300 jobs are at risk at the University of Westminster, while University College London (UCL) is engaged in making £20m of cuts across the board.

In an historically unprecedented move in 186 years of its history, UCL is seeking the redundancy of 10% of its academics in the Faculty of Life Sciences, while simultaneously engaging in cuts in support staff elsewhere, including in the libraries and other student services. UCU has accused both institutions of acting in bad faith and failing to justify the need for cuts.

The University of Westminster has announced plans to get rid of 285 posts as it tries to reduce staff costs to 60% of total costs; a figure the union says has been plucked from the air. Westminster is a teaching-intensive university where staff costs make up a higher percentage of costs than a research-intensive institution.

The sector average spend on staff costs in 2008/09 was 57%, so the Westminster figure of 60% would be low for a teaching-intensive institution. UCU also wants to know why the redundancies have to be achieved over such a short time period and why they are being done on the basis of a projected, rather than an actual, deficit.

UCU says UCL has offered no financial justification for making the cuts and has accused management of failing to consult meaningfully over avoiding redundancies. UCL reported a financial income of £731m in 2009-10 and recently raised more than £100m from alumni and others in its ‘Campaign for UCL’.

The nature and timing of industrial action will become much clearer in the next few days as members at the universities meet to discuss next steps.

Sean Wallis, UCU branch secretary at UCL, said: “There may be a global recession but UCL is, in its own words, ‘booming’. UCL increased its income by one-eighth – 12.25% – over the last year. The provost told the trade unions that UCL is on track to make a surplus of £7m this year. These are cuts of choice, not necessity, and management could end the dispute tomorrow.

“UCL is a world-leading university. It is our staff who make it great. It is a scandal that politicians seek to cut higher education in a recession, leaving hundreds of thousands of young people with no job or university place. But it adds insult to injury for a university in full bloom to be attacking its staff in this way.”

Peter McLoughlin, UCU branch secretary at Westminster, said: “We are delighted and energised by the excellent ballot result and we call on management to now talk seriously about the ways in which redundancies can be avoided at Westminster.

“Management’s decision to seek a 10% cut in staff before July has never been justified by any of the figures they have produced and savings could be made over a longer period without making people redundant. Management’s actions are totally unnecessary, especially in light of the recent admission that they have £53m in the bank.”

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Members at Westminster and UCL have the union’s full support. These cuts will have a damaging impact on students and the quality of service they can expect from the institutions. Getting rid of staff and distinguished departments will come back and haunt the universities.”

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Deficit dreams…

More on the deficit delusion the VC is keen to sell us!  The figures from the January accounts shown to Governors claim staff costs for this year will top £105m, while our deficit is approx. £5m.  But we know that about £5m of this is redundancy payments.  In other words, the VC has created the deficit by trying to get rid of people, and if he left us all in our jobs, there would be no deficit! Ironic, really.

But there’s more madness!  In the VC’s presentation yesterday (see below for a review), he claimed that pay costs next year would be £101m, against an income of £169.5m.  The UCU Westminster blog immediately whipped out its calculator, crunched the numbers, and came to the following conclusion: If the job cuts go through, the salary bill should be reduced by £8.3m, so the pay costs for 2010-11 should be £8.3m less than 2009-10.  But if pay costs next year are £101m, then this year they should be £109.3m – WAY higher than they actually are.  So what’s that about?

    So, the blog asks: is the VC going to hire a lot more people next year? (You can bet they won’t be front-line academics or support staff!)  Or is he going to get rid of more people (and therefore need to make more redundancy payments)?

    It’s weird any way you look at it.  Either the VC’s numbers don’t add up (for reasons he doesn’t care to share with us) or the VC can’t add up….

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    For members of staff who made the trek to the Hogg Lecture Theatre on the Marylebone at lunchtime yesterday, it was a little like watching a silent movie actor of the 1930s making their debut in the new and challenging world of sound.  The VC SPEAKS – to staff!  Something that happens so rarely, it takes on a significance well beyond its actual purpose.  Yes, the VC spoke to us.  Pity he didn’t listen, though…

    Giving a carefully rehearsed presentation, full of positive buzzwords such as “energizing”, “forward”, “innovation”, “practice-informed” etc., the VC began in his usual bullish style as he described, in rather nebulous fashion, his 2015 vision.  However, nerves soon set in as he edged his way towards the subject that everyone had come to hear him talk about – job cuts – with awkward pauses and, at times, seemingly losing his way in the script that had been prepared for him.

    Staff were again treated to a plethora of unexplained numbers – even, hilariously, a slide that purported to show that the numbers of senior management staff had declined over the last three years, as if to say “look how many senior managers have gracefully fallen on their sword to save your jobs”, although it might be fairer to say that (1) actually those that left did so for the sake of their own careers and (2) the current number of senior staff presented by the VC omits the TWO directors of HR as well a number of recent director appointments to this and that centre he has made.

    And when the last reel .. sorry, slide …was done, off strode the VC into the wings – off camera, as it were – microphone discarded.  Even as someone shouted from the audience “Questions! What about questions?”, and even though 15 minutes remained on the clock, the VC was clearly in no mood to communicate or have any kind of dialogue with those very people he was preparing to throw out of the university.

    A quick poll of opinion among those people leaving the lecture theatre afterwards revealed a common view: “why did I bother to come?”

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    Welcome back…

    We are back!  The UCU Westminster blog took a well-earned break over Easter, but is now back online – and the first thing we want to do is remind all UCU members at University of Westminster to complete and return your ballot papers!  The ballot closes next week, Wednesday 21st April.  So please SEND OFF your ballot papers by Monday at the latest!

    Just a reminder why this is probably the most important ballot for industrial action EVER held at our university:

    Department by department, colleagues are confronted with the prospect of losing their jobs.  Management continues to press on with their programme of cuts, despite the fact, as acknowledged by the university’s own Director of Finance to the unions,  that if no  severances/redundancies were to take place there would be no deficit for the current financial year! In particular, as per the January University accounts, provided to the recognized trades unions and presented in the last Court of Governors meeting: the annual staff costs for 2010 are stated as £105,661,000, but include a projected spend of £4,6-£5,4M on severances!

    In fact the January accounts make interesting reading: the January monthly pay costs were £8,405,000 – multiply this by 12 months, and you get £100,860,000.  A similar exercise for the previous year shows that the result was very close to the actual outcome for annual pay costs. So management’s prediction of £105m for pay costs for this year is out by – surprise, surprise – £5m!

    We keep being told that these cuts are part of a strategy to reduce the university’s staff costs ‘below 60% of income’ – and expect this delusional mantra to be repeated again and again at the VC’s briefing next Monday.  But the University’s finances do not justify this, since, excluding redundancy payments, staff costs are already below 60%! There is no crisis – so why are these cuts being made? Is there another agenda being followed?

    Central to any understanding of this job cuts programme are the academic job cuts in the School of Electronic and Computer Science (ECS). In ECS, management are seeking to remove 32+5 academic posts and 6 technicians’ posts in the school by ‘voluntary’ or compulsory means, to make cuts of £2.8M.  However, £1.1M of this deficit was actually ‘created’ because of management’s decision to reduce ECS’s HEFCE income through the reduction of 140 FTE home student places from 2010-11.

    All ECS academic members of staff have received a very confusing long letter dated April 1st, which reached the majority of staff on Easter Saturday (an Easter present from the management?), putting all ECS staff ‘at risk of redundancy’ and inviting them to ‘volunteer’ for redundancy (or unpaid career break) by 26 April. ECS staff who wish to continue being employed by the University will have to reapply for a job in the new school structure and go through an interview process.

    But the new ECS school structure still remains unclear two weeks after the letter to staff has been posted, and we have heard that details of the posts and how many posts there will be in the new structure will not be available until AFTER the deadline for applying for voluntary severance!  Moreover, anyone refused for voluntary severance is not actually guaranteed a job – they can apply but still be refused, thus being forced into compulsory redundancy and being paid the legal minimum payment (£380 per week under the statuatory redundancy calculator)!  And anyone lucky enough to get a job for next year has no guarantee it will be at the same grade, the same salary scale, or even the same contract…  If we here at the UCU Westminster blog were a tiny bit more cyncical, we could almost believe the whole palaver was designed to push people into applying for voluntary severance!

    The situation at ECS should not be seen as an isolated problem for ECS staff only; it creates a very dangerous precedent for all Westminster staff.  It seems there is a plan to change everyone’s contracts and salaries to their disadvantage, and if management get away with it in ECS, they won’t stop there!  If there is no deficit, except for that created by severance payments, and if management can push a school into further deficit by cutting its students numbers, and use these spurious numbers to push everyone into reapplying for their jobs on worse pay and conditions, why would they stop at ECS?

    Another school which is seriously hit by job cuts plans is SSHL, affecting PG Greek and UG Russian provisions in the Dept. of  Modern Languages, both proposed to close despite alternative business proposals made by staff, as well as the Centre for English Learning and Teaching (Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies) and the Languages evening programme in the Dept. of Modern and Applied Languages.  In neither case has there been any real evidence that management have seriously considered staff’s alternative proposals – all we hear is “sorry, there’s no alternative”. In the case of the last two units, a new ’business plan’ is being proposed, further details of which will only become available next week (so we’ll have more to say on this subject then!)

    These cuts are an issue for everyone at Westminster. If they are unopposed, there will be heavier workloads, larger class sizes, reduced contact time for students, increased pressures on academic freedom, and a further erosion of collegiality. This process poses an additional serious threat to Westminster’s reputation.

    That’s why UCU’s ballot for industrial action at Westminster is probably our most important ever – and why we need YOU to return your ballot paper and why we are recommending that all members vote for industrial action and action short of a strike.  This isn’t about university finances, this is about changing academic contracts so that we lose our livelihoods, our salary scales, our hard-earned promotions. And ultimately, it comes back to what education we offer to our students, who will find themselves in larger classes with less contact time with staff and fewer options to take in a university that has, under our current management, come to value money over real education.

    Vote for industrial action!  Vote to protect yourselves, your jobs and your students’ education!

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