We're London Met, not 'EasyMet'

January 12, 2012

Marketing implores us to be "Proud to be London Met" - but now our vice-chancellor says that up to 50 per cent of our support services staff are "Not allowed to be London Met".

We were staggered by the latest email to staff sent by Malcolm Gillies, who announced (just two days before the Christmas holidays) that London Metropolitan University's board of governors had decided to embark on a "shared services" project - slashing costs and cutting jobs in the process.

Gillies followed up this Scrooge-like Christmas message with an interview with Times Higher Education in which he claimed that the shared services model would cut costs by up to 50 per cent over five years ("Shared savings plan to halve admin costs", 5 January). This was the first Unison (which represents support staff) had heard of the plans: happy new year to you too, Malcolm.

Current evidence that doesn't come from the shared services industry itself overwhelmingly demonstrates that such projects are deeply flawed. They share these characteristics: high entry or upfront costs; high failure rates; loss of local knowledge; loss of service visibility; loss of control and accountability; loss of identity; loss of competitive advantage; worker dissatisfaction and union trouble (as if we haven't had enough of that at London Met); costs of failure pushed on to service users (London Met students are not rich); and "savings" as costs are pushed into other parts of the system.

We are deeply concerned that London Met is on the road to privatisation. The procurement costs of shared service models are significant and could leave the university deeper in the red: the potential savings are wildly exaggerated and dependent on cutting terms and conditions, or locating employment in areas where costs are lower - yet the marketers want us to "talk up the brand".

London Met staff really do pride ourselves on being embedded in the local community. We are London Met, not "EasyMet", and intend to remain so. Let's hope the board won't repeat the failures of the past.

Max Watson, Chair, London Metropolitan University Unison branch

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