Release investigation report, says sacked USS whistleblower

Warwick statistician Jane Hutton attacks lack of transparency over her dismissal from board of Universities Superannuation Scheme

October 15, 2019
Confidential report
Source: iStock

The whistleblower who was fired from the board of UK higher education’s main pension scheme has hit out at the lack of transparency over her case.

Jane Hutton said there was a “very conspicuous discrepancy” between claims of openness made by the Universities Superannuation Scheme and the fund’s actions following her dismissal from her role as a trustee representing the University and College Union.

Sir David Eastwood, the board’s chair, said on 11 October that Professor Hutton had “breached a number of her director’s duties owed under company law and contract”. In a letter to sector leaders, Sir David, vice-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, insists that the probe into Professor Hutton is “completely separate” from the investigation of her claim that she had been obstructed from investigating the USS’ deficit – a key issue in the ongoing industrial dispute over the fund’s future.

However, Sir David said, the report into Professor Hutton’s conduct, produced by the law firm Slaughter and May, contained “highly sensitive” information and therefore could not be released for confidentiality reasons.

This means that details of recommended improvements to USS policies and procedures will stay under wraps, alongside details of Professor Hutton’s alleged conduct.

Professor Hutton, professor of statistics at the University of Warwick, told Times Higher Education that “the procedures that [USS] have used have not been of the standard that I would wish to see”.

“If one looks at both natural justice and the UK employment law and the USS’ own whistleblowing policy, which applies to non-executive directors, I think their procedures have been lacking,” she said.

Professor Hutton has been allowed to view the report’s executive summary, but she was told that she could see the full report only if she read it in a secure room under observation by a solicitor and consented not to take any notes and not to discuss, disclose or use any part of it.

Professor Hutton declined these terms, as did the UCU. As such, and in light of Sir David’s assertion that the investigation was separate from the whistleblowing probe, Professor Hutton said she had “no idea at all what issues they could be referring to”.

In his letter, Sir David says that all directors had the opportunity to access the report on the same terms.

A UCU spokesman said the union had declined because the terms “were totally unreasonable and could not have been agreed to by any democratic organisation committed to accountability and transparency”. He added, “USS should now release the evidence in full for all scheme members to consider.”

Professor Hutton agreed. “We’re talking about a pension fund worth £60-£70 billion, with a lot of very interested members,” she said. “What is the point of a report that no one is supposed to use or refer to?”

Professor Hutton has said that she will take further action over the case. After she claimed that she had been obstructed in her bid to investigate an alleged error in the calculation of the fund’s deficit, she was suspended from the board.

In his letter, Sir David says that the USS had investigated Professor Hutton’s whistleblowing allegations and that the fund’s “responses to her many and varied requests for information were extensive, considered, and overall reasonable in the circumstances. The board’s view on this has been supported by the findings of external experts.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Interesting, who paid the external experts and edited their report? Surprised no independent investigation.
The UCU and professor Hutton are proposing that the scheme be valued by a different method than the one they have used - one supported by many actuaries, that conforms to actuarial practice, is permitted by the pension regulations under the law. If the USS is in such deep trouble as it claims then surely the thing to do is simply to look at this alternative. That is the usual approach when there is a financial problem in an organisation, and one that trade unions respect - to look at all alternatives before making the decision. But USS is refusing to do that and covering up. Eastwood gives no evidence whatever in support of his statement.

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