Sussex 'deaf' to objections to childcare changes

Academics at the University of Sussex say they were left stunned at a meeting of the institution’s senate when management refused to discuss motions put forward by union members of 17 departments over the closure of a childcare scheme.

December 6, 2012

The motions raised objections to the ending of Sussex’s flexible childcare scheme, which allowed staff to save money by paying for childcare from their salaries before tax.

According to one academic who attended the 21 November meeting, when a member of the senate asked why the crèche was not being discussed, Sussex’s registrar and secretary John Duffy responded that the motions had “no formal status”.

The Sussex branch of the University and College Union has written to Mr Duffy asking him to clarify his comments. Although he has yet to respond, a spokesman for the university said that changes to the scheme were made in consultation with the unions and affected staff, and that the senate was not the place to discuss an issue “already being addressed through those proper channels”.

Rob French, vice-president of the Sussex branch of the UCU, told Times Higher Education that the situation prompted the question of whether managers were employing a tactic of “deliberate deafness”. He said: “If they were truly inclined to listen to staff views, the message was there loud and clear…”

The childcare scheme ended when management of the creche was outsourced to the external firm Co-operative Childcare on 1 November.

Although current staff will receive compensation for the loss of the scheme and will transfer to a different childcare voucher programme, the union said it remained concerned about higher costs for future staff - which it said amounted to thousands of pounds a year - with a potentially disproportionate impact on female academics.

The motions asked senior management to explore whether the service could continue to be deemed a workplace facility so that the scheme could remain.

The Sussex spokesman told THE that the outsourcing had been widely welcomed at the university, given that otherwise the creche would need to close in the wake of recorded losses of more than £350,000 a year.

The university is investing £1 million in a new nursery and preschool building and an increased number of childcare spaces thanks to the outsourcing, he added.

Earlier this year the university also announced controversial plans for private companies to take over the management of its estates, facilities, catering and conference services from August 2013. These services collectively account for some 235 of the 2,200 jobs at the institution.

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