USS disclosure- in need of a “deus ex machina”.


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..

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

We protect the UK’s workplace pensions. We make sure employers, trustees, pension specialists and business advisers can fulfil their duties to scheme members.

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.



About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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2 Responses to USS disclosure- in need of a “deus ex machina”.

  1. Sam Marsh says:

    The interesting thing is that UCU and UUK *have* agreed assumptions on which to model the cuts, and those are the ones in the official modeller from USS. What the paper by Grant, Hindmarsh and Koposov shows is that UUK’s claims, the source of which pre-dates the modeller, contradict the assumptions that UUK themselves agreed. It would be good if TPR were to weigh in to forces a correction from UUK, but there is no doubt as to the misrepresentation and dishonesty here.

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