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Update on consultation with UCU and Staff Forum

Vice-Chancellor Robert van der Noort

A message from Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Van de Noort on consultation with University and College Union and the Staff Forum. 

Colleagues,

Formal consultation with the University and College Union and the Staff Forum is now underway. A number of relevant materials, including meeting minutes, will be shared on the Post-COVID-19 Response Programme information and FAQs page shortly.

I will be sharing regular short updates reporting back on progress. I will also be holding further briefing sessions for all colleagues via Teams next week, at 3pm on Wednesday 8 July and 1pm on Thursday 9 July. You can book your place online.

To start with, some brief but important context. Formal consultation begins with a letter from the University to the UCU and Staff Forum under Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This is colloquially known as a ‘Section 188 letter' and you can find it on the programme web page. What needs to be covered by this is set out in law, so it is written in very formal terms. What it essentially says, though, is that the University has identified potential changes to contracts of employment as a way to address the University's financial shortfall, which if not agreed may give rise to a risk of potential redundancies, and we are entering into collective consultation to explore ways to minimise the number of job losses.

Following this letter, the formal Consultation Group met with UCU and Staff Forum representatives for the first time on Thursday 18 June 2020. The Consultation Group is chaired by me, and the full membership is shown in our formal Consultation Paper. The UCU is the recognised trade union for staff on Grades 6 and above. For the purposes of the consultation process they have been represented at the meetings to date by Deepa Driver, Sally Pellow, Melani Schroeter, Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, Rita Balestrini and Moray McAulay (UCU Regional Officer). The Staff Forum is the elected employee representative for staff on Grades 1 to 5. They are represented by Steve Guest, Sarah Hinton, John Jack and Sian Walsh.

The group has now met five times. At our first meeting we took the opportunity to ensure that everyone understood the context and scope of the work ahead, and what is expected of us formally. We also discussed the assumptions on which the University has modelled a predicted shortfall in income of £106 million over three years, arising from an expected drop in student numbers post-COVID-19. Information about this model will be on the programme information page shortly.

As I explained in our meetings, the University approaches the challenge of COVID-19 as a ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst' matter. While I acknowledge that the magnitude of the predicted shortfall may change, there are reasonable concerns that the financial impact of the pandemic will be significant. Phase 1 is therefore very much about contingency planning, so that we are ready in case the predicted shortfall become reality. The University is seeking to put in place actions that can be modified or even stopped altogether if necessary. The financial challenges of COVID-19 are certainly to be well in excess of the challenges we were already facing, including pressure on recruitment, annual inflationary costs, ongoing uncertainty about the outcomes of Brexit for the sector and the country, and possible future fees and funding changes that may still arise from the Augar Review, which are addressed in Phase 2. It is my view that to delay taking action in good time will compound these problems and create very real short-term cashflow issues.

The group also began exploring the types of options for salary-related savings I have mentioned previously, such as pay freezes and cuts. This is, of course, the very essence of the consultation and while there is still a huge amount of detail to work through, and there are many concerns to address, I was encouraged by the constructive nature of these early discussions. I feel it is important that we approach this challenge as a community and that some sacrifice should be shared across us all in order to minimise the number of job losses. But this is a careful balance, and so it is important that we explore the options, and their impacts on all colleagues, fully and carefully.

The Staff Forum has already run a series of discussion and drop-in sessions via Teams to seek input and views from colleagues, and it is intending to hold more. The UCU has also been running discussion and drop-in sessions seeking input from its members.

I look forward hearing your thoughts and responding to questions at next week's briefing sessions. In the meantime, there is lots of information on the programme information and FAQs page so please do take a few moments to take a look. If you have any questions, please email communications@reading.ac.uk.

Kind regards


Robert

Professor Robert Van de Noort
Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading

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