Casting vote seals USS reform

May 11, 2011

Higher education employers have won their battle to cut benefits in the sector’s main pension scheme, raising the prospect of further industrial action.

The University and College Union’s negotiators had refused to attend the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s decision-making committee in a bid to block the changes by leaving the committee inquorate.

But the UCU representatives attended yesterday after the USS threatened them with High Court action – a move described by the union as “intimidation”.

The employers’ changes were then given final approval by the casting vote of Sir Andrew Cubie, the USS joint negotiating committee’s independent chairman.

The changes include: career-average pensions instead of final-salary deals for new members; linking pension increases to the consumer prices index, and capping rises at 10 per cent; higher member contributions; and introducing a pension age of 65 for entrants as well as the future service of existing members.

The USS is worth about £30 billion and has some 120,000 active members, mainly academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 universities.

Sir Andrew says in a statement issued by the USS: “While I was pleased that the meeting was once again quorate, I was deeply disappointed that the employers and UCU were not able to reach agreement on these important issues.

“In these circumstances, I was again obliged to exercise my casting vote on proposals which I believe will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of USS.”

The career-average pensions for new members will have a combined accrual rate (the rate at which pension benefits build up each year) of 1/64, according to the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF).

The UCU said the changes will create a two-tier system, with entrants receiving lower-value pensions than older members, who will remain on final-salary deals.

The USS said the date of implementation for the changes “will be announced in due course”.

An EPF spokesman said: “These moderate changes will enable USS to remain sustainable, attractive and affordable for all: employers and members, current and future.”

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