by Bruce Baker, Newcastle UCU and NEC
University managers tell us we are in “unprecedented” times. They want to avoid redundancies (except at Roehampton, Sussex, and Nottingham), but they will have to do Bad Things to avoid doing Worse Things. Here are some thoughts, especially on getting and using financial information.
1. No one expects redundancies, like the Spanish Inquisition. Until about five minutes before the Section 188 notice arrives, expect to hear the phrase “no one is talking about redundancies”. Still, better to prepare, just in case.
2. Even if “no one is talking about [definite, costed, compulsory] redundancies”, many branches will be having the potential of redundancies used to push detrimental changes to contracts and working conditions. Treat changes backed by threat of redundancy as if they were redundancies.
3. There is a process for redundancy, and ACAS has helpfully explained best practice here. Familiarise yourself with it.
4. There are basic questions to ask. Without going through all the complexities, the key one is this: are these (threats of) redundancies being made on the basis of a business case or a financial case?
5. A business case means that the employer is no longer doing the same thing and doesn’t need the people who did that. A financial case means they are doing the same thing but can’t afford to keep the same number of staff. What we are facing now are financial cases.
6. At the first stage, employer should make a redundancy plan, in consultation with trade unions, which must include how to share information.
7. If a financial case is being made, then the union should request the financial data which underpins that in order to see if there are other options besides redundancies (or the Bad Thing which is better than redundancies, for that matter).
8. Chances are the management will attempt to fob you off with a document that the Finance Director put together to justify the Bad Thing. It will have numbers in it, which will be scary and will suggest that ‘There Is No Alternative’.
9. Do not accept this. Remember, numbers are only numbers, and it is the narrative they create which has power. A report like this, even if it contains numbers, is a narrative to support the Bad Thing. Get the actual numbers and write your own alternative narrative.
- What is the current operating surplus?
- What are the University’s current liquid assets?
- How much do they expect to lose in the current FY and from where?
- What is the projected income for the next year, broken down, and what is the basis for these projections?
- What are the equivalent projections for the two years beyond the next financial year?
- What is the cost of the normal implementation of [REDACTED] for the current year?
- How much has the normal implementation of [REDACTED] cost over the past three years?
- How much is allocated to pensions in each of the next three years?
- How much is allocated to depreciation of capital assets in each of the next three years, and how is that calculated?
11. When these questions are posed to management, keep the members informed as they might have further ideas. Also, find members with accountancy experience to help dig through what comes back and to insist on getting the full account, not just central books.
12. Check with members at every stage and publicise, publicise, publicise. This is money from the public purse and/or the pockets of students. There is a public interest in seeing that it is stewarded carefully & a public interest in the sustainability of universities.
13. What must be sustained is not the shiny buildings, not the international ventures, not the metrics, but the community of scholars, those whose work supports that scholarship, and those who learn from them. That is all. Reject TINA (sorry to anyone called “Tina”).