Pension chief pockets £50k bonus, as higher education staff face cuts to benefits

The sector’s biggest pension fund gave its chief executive a £50,000 bonus in a year when lecturers went on strike over cuts to their benefits, it has emerged.

August 3, 2011

The Universities Superannuation Scheme, the UK’s second biggest private pension fund, gave Tom Merchant the award for his hard work in a “demanding year”.

Mr Merchant’s total remuneration, including the bonus, rose by nearly a quarter to £311,000 in the year to March, the Daily Telegraph reported.

The scheme’s 84 investment staff were also given bonuses worth an average of £36,000.

The USS said that the “investment performance achieved and the growth in headcount resulted in increased bonus payments”, and that the scheme’s assets increased from £29.8 billion to £32.3 billion.

Members of the University and College Union went on strike in March after the employers won their battle for changes to the scheme, which include lower-value career-average benefits for new entrants, linking pension increases to the lower consumer prices index of inflation, and a cap for those inflation increases.

The UCU has a joint say in the running of the USS alongside the employers.

When the UCU blocked the changes by repeatedly refusing to attend meetings, leaving the decision-making Joint Negotiating Committee inquorate, the USS threatened to take the union’s representatives to court and leave them with heavy legal costs.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, accused the USS of seeking to “bully and intimidate” the lecturers.

The UCU is currently holding a fresh ballot for more sustained industrial action on the USS, aimed at disrupting universities at the start of the new academic year.

Ms Hunt said: “As USS members consider how to vote in the ballot, they will be angry to learn of such lavish perks after being told drastic changes were needed to save their pensions.”

The USS payments are detailed in the scheme’s accounts, lodged at Companies House. The full annual report and accounts will not be available until October.

A USS spokesman said performance-related bonuses “are concentrated on five year review periods rather than an annual period”, and that the “bonus scheme helps us to attract and retain talented staff”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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