Sustainable pensions, passionate debate 1

October 14, 2010

Sally Hunt's article "Divided we fall" (7 October) fails to recognise that the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme are the minimum required to ensure that an affordable, sustainable and attractive pension scheme is secured for all higher education employees.

She appears to overlook the University and College Union's full involvement in a two-year negotiation process that concluded in July. The union then decided that despite the fact that the employers' proposals retained a final-salary pension for all current USS members, it could not agree on the outcome of the talks. Negotiations could not be resolved without the casting vote of Sir Andrew Cubie, the independent chair of the joint negotiating committee, whose appointment was originally supported by the UCU.

The union now appears to be attempting to undermine a formal consultation process that goes beyond the necessary legal requirements under the Pensions Act 2004.

The UCU repeatedly calls for members to be balloted on the changes, but USS rules do not provide for scheme changes to be agreed by member ballot: they are the responsibility of the committee and USS trustees. In addition, a ballot simply asking members if they accept or reject the changes would do nothing to move things forward. The forthcoming consultation will allow members to express their views on different aspects of the plans, providing feedback to trustees that will be considered before any changes are agreed.

The union's suggestion that negotiations should reopen on the grounds of fluctuations in USS asset values is short-sighted. As reinforced by Lord Hutton's interim report, increasing longevity is the primary factor driving changes to all pension schemes. There is no doubt that the proposals are the minimum necessary to ensure that a valued and sustainable scheme is maintained in the future.

Tony Bruce, Employers Pensions Forum consultant.

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