Reading the latest acrimonious exchanges between the University Employers and the staff union UCU is a depressing business. UUK, who say they are taking their lead from the USS pension scheme stand accused of underestimating the scale of the cuts to pension benefits to younger members. The maths is complicated but to a literate and numerate membership, the idea that employers are deliberately misleading younger staff is highly credible.
What surprises me is the Pension Regulator’s position , reported in the FT.
The Pensions Regulator said it would be for UUK to address and investigate any claims about misleading claims made during the consultation, in the first instance. USS declined to comment.
If there is ever to be resolution in this revolving door of claim and counter claim, it needs to come from an external body. The industrial dispute over pensions at Royal Mail was finally settled by ACAS, but there , the matter was more polarised and the solution emerged because of a lack of engagement at staff level. At USS, everyone, including the membership seems to have an opinion and one that is increasingly informed by an understanding of how pension schemes work.
The story is now the level of member engagement and the lack of trust between members, employers and the scheme executive and trustees..
— Josephine Cumbo (@JosephineCumbo) June 19, 2022
We most definitively have a non-interventionist Government (as regards strikes – witness its refusal to involve itself in discussions over rail-strikes). The Pension Regulator is most definitely not a member-facing organisation as its homepage makes clear
However, this dispute is about pension disclosure and requires an authoritative intervention if trust is to be restored. For all its faults, the Pension Regulator remains authorative on pensions, especially defined benefit pensions and it has in Brighton people who are both independent and intellectually capable of seeing the woods from the trees.
So perhaps now is the time for the Pensions Regulator to speak to the UCU, the UUK and USS to create a statement that all three can agree on , as a proper estimate of the cuts that are in the process of being implemented.
There is , in the Pension Regulator’s statement to the FCA, a hint that tPR could intervene in a later “instance”. The question may be whether there is sufficient trust in tPR for all sides to agree to take its guidance. And for tPR there is the obvious risk that whoever fails to fall in line will argue that tPR is taking sides.
My view is that what is being argued about is not political but technical. The impact of the changes to USS depends on a number of assumptions , all of which can be tested ,debated and ultimately agreed upon. Surely it is within the remit of the Pension Regulator to manage this aspect of this dispute, so that members can feel there is a “deus ex machina” that will allow them and the institutional parties in dispute with each other – to move along.This is a dispute that needs resolution, we cannot have more finding students having their studies and exams disrupted – and their teachers demotivated.