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Friday update: We can demand better

It’s been another busy week for the local branch, as you no doubt will have gathered by the number of emails dropping into your inbox.  We had our monthly branch executive meeting, as well as a more open meeting for reps and volunteers – running the national pensions campaign at the same time as trying to keep abreast of our considerable and ever-growing local issues is a huge ask, so we are grateful for every offer of help we receive.

We would have had an important meeting about facilities time on Monday, rescheduled from as long ago as August, but it was cancelled at only hours’ notice by management. “Facilities time” refers to the hours worked by union officials and volunteers on union business – including negotiation, casework, and representation – and the recompense for that work received by Faculties and Academic Units.  Given the huge increase in the amount of work we are now covering this meeting has been high on our priority list, but alas, we have not been offered a new date.

The Chief Operating Officer’s email of 4 December 2017

As members will know, on Monday we received a response to the questions we put to senior management on 22 November. While it contained little information that was not already in the public domain, it did contain a rather astonishing passage:

Thank you for your email of the 24th November 2017 requesting the information you would like to see that supports our decision to offer a voluntary severance scheme to six areas of the University.

You have requested the information for the purposes of collective bargaining. I must emphasise that we have launched a targeted voluntary severance scheme and are not consulting with you about proposals to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees. As such the University does not have a duty to provide the requested information and will not be providing minutes of meetings or details of meetings where decisions were taken. [our emphasis]

Keep this in mind. We will come back to it in a minute.

The Chair of Council’s email of 1 December 2017

As every employee, and anyone who listens to the news or reads the papers, will know, the Chair of Council sent an email to all staff on 1 December, saying that the Vice-Chancellor did not sit on the committee that awarded his pay in 2016 – in a statement that the University has since been forced to clarify in the national press.  We leave it to readers to decide whether or not the intent to mislead was deliberate, but we reproduce the text here, and ask our readers to note the verb tense (English – one of the departments under threat – teaches very useful critical reading skills). The email sets out a situation that is impossible: the Remuneration Committee as described could not have set, regularly reviewed, or agreed the Vice-Chancellor’s pay for 2016, since it has only been in existence since September 2017:

The Remuneration Committee followed a core principle of transparency around Sir Christopher’s pay. Therefore we simplified it to pay one overall figure, not the complex remuneration packages that others have of salary, bonus and various other allowances, including the usual 18% employer pension contribution, which get reported in different ways.

Our governance

We have rigorous and effective governance in place relating to Vice-Chancellor pay. His salary was benchmarked, set and is regularly reviewed and agreed by the University’s independently chaired Remuneration Committee, which reports to the University Council. The Vice-Chancellor is not a Member of the Remuneration Committee and he only attends by invitation to discuss other business. We have always been transparent about his pay, internally and externally. Members of the Remuneration Committee and Council are acutely conscious of the responsibility we have for ensuring appropriate remuneration, and are sensitive to the healthy public debate about remuneration levels, equality in wages, value for money, and reward for responsibility and performance.

The rest of the substance of the email was an attempt to justify the Vice-Chancellor’s salary, which has increased by 71% since 2009 and 30% since 2015 (£253K in 2008/9, £332K in 2014/15; £433K in 2016/17).  We find it curious that the rhetoric used to justify senior management pay always invokes the private sector (“But if we want a world-class leader, which we have in Sir Christopher, remuneration has to be set accordingly. During our search it became very clear that Vice-Chancellors in the USA, Asia and Australasia earn significantly more than in the UK”), while at the same time the rhetoric used to minimize increases in all other university workers’ pay invokes public sector pay restraint.

Responsibilities of senior management

At the bottom of Dr Rider’s email is a link to The University Council web pages which, if followed through, leads to the Statement of the Council’s Primary Responsibilities.  This is an interesting document.

Para 2.6 states that Council has a responsibility “to conduct its business in accordance with best practice in university corporate governance and with the principles of public life drawn up by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.”

Para 3.2 states:

  • The President & Vice-Chancellor’s actions will be consistent with the principles of public life, known as the Nolan Principles, drawn up by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
  • The President & Vice-Chancellor will act at all times to further the best interests of the University, its staff and students, and will be mindful of the importance of preserving the University’s reputation.

Para 3.6 states, “Paragraph 3.2 above states that the President & Vice-Chancellor’s actions shall be in accordance with the principles of public life. Likewise, the actions of the Vice Presidents, the Chief Operating Officer and the Deans will be consistent with the principles of public life, known as the Nolan Principles, drawn up by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.”

The Nolan Principles

It is clear from the above that all members of Council and all members of the senior management of the University have a clear duty to abide by The Seven Principles of Public Life, known as the Nolan Principles.  These are:

1. Selflessness
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest.

2. Integrity
Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.

3. Objectivity
Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

4. Accountability
Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this.

5. Openness
Holders of public office should act and take decisions in an open and transparent manner. Information should not be withheld from the public unless there are clear and lawful reasons for so doing.

6. Honesty
Holders of public office should be truthful.

7. Leadership
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.

Some questions

We ask our readers to consider:

  • whether the Chief Operating Officer’s email of 4 December 2017 demonstrates the fourth and fifth principles, accountability and openness, or whether it in fact, demonstrates the opposite, refusing to reveal information he is not legally obliged to reveal.
  • whether the Chair of Council’s email of 1 December 2017 demonstrates that Council and senior management adhere to all of these principles: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.
  •  whether senior management’s behavior in relation to their employees in NETSCC, described in our blog on Tuesday, demonstrates the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh principles: objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, and leadership.
  •  whether the Vice-President for Research’s unilateral decision to remove all gathering and use of data by central Professional Services teams from the oversight of the Ethics Committee demonstrates the second, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh principles: integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, and leadership.
  • whether senior management’s inability to ensure that its appraisal system is fairly operated according to our negotiated agreement, and its longheld stance that it was not in contravention of that agreement, demonstrates the third, fourth, fifth, and seventh principles:  objectivity, accountability, openness, and leadership.
  •  whether senior management’s continued endorsement of a discriminatory process of module evaluation, and the use of the data it produces in the evaluation of its employees’ performance demonstrates the third, fourth, and seventh principles: objectivity, accountability, and leadership.
  • whether the institution’s woeful record on response to Freedom of Information requests  demonstrates the fourth, fifth, and seventh principles:  accountability, openness, and leadership.

Precedents for community action have been set at Birmingham and Bath, and our students are readying their own all-student vote on senior management’s plans for the future. The University – all of its members, students and staff – can, and should, demand better from our Council and our senior management.

 

 

 

 

6 Comments

  1. PD says:

    Well you are not saying it but someone should. When I read

    “…The Vice-Chancellor is not a Member of the Remuneration Committee and he only attends by invitation to discuss other business…” There is no ambiguity about what is being said and none about the inference the reader is supposed to draw – the VC was not a member of the committee that decided his pay. Given that this is untrue, one of two things happened here.

    i) Whoever drafted this statement was grossly negligent and failed to ascertain the facts. I say grossly negligent because the sensitivity and significance of this matter is obvious. It was already under close public scrutiny.

    ii) The alternative is that they have deliberately attempted to deceive the reader while retaining a shred of factual accuracy (I presume that this is an accurate statement of the situation that pertains today). To me, that is the work of a skilled liar.

    I wonder which it is? Neither reflects very well on the person involved or anyone that has condoned or encouraged this behaviour.

  2. Tracy Long-Sutehall says:

    Having just read a document on the requirement for faculty of health sciences staff to ensure that their conflict of interest status was up-to-date, and for the first time, having contact with the Nolan principles, my immediate thought was how these principles were not demonstrated by senior management within the FoHS nor the University. I am therefore extremely impressed by both the content and tone of this blog.
    Please keep on blogging as it reassures me that someone is thinking about people such as myself and voicing my concerns to a wider audience than I can achieve and in a far more articulate manner.

  3. exec says:

    Thanks, Tracy. Please be assured we are thinking about you, and it’s good to know that the blog is voicing concerns that are held by others in our community.

  4. exec says:

    Thanks for your response, PD. Indeed, the seventh principle requires that not only should those who are bound by the principles ensure that their behaviour demonstrates them, but that they should also “challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.” We wonder if that is taking place.

  5. HB says:

    Thanks for the update! Could you please clarify the email (answers to FAQ) circulated last week by VC’s office, which is a bit confusing, where it is said: “we will not accept all applications for VS, but will select them…”.

    The question is then: on which basis (ethics) will you select?

    Is it really a “Voluntary” S or compulsory redundancy?

    Does this not come to say that they will select those whom they want to make redundant?

  6. exec says:

    Thanks for your comment. The difference between voluntary severance and voluntary redundancy is that severance is a resignation, and redundancy is a dismissal – a resignation is attached to the person, but a redundancy is attached to a post. The current scheme is “voluntary” in the sense that it is not compulsory to apply for it, but we know that some individuals who had already been approached to leave the university under a settlement agreement, on the understanding that their posts would be disappearing in the new year, are now being encouraged to apply for voluntary severance. If we find that their posts are made redundant, then we will be advising them on their rights.

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