Trustees order revisions to employers’ pension reforms

The trustees of higher education’s biggest pension scheme have ordered changes to the employers’ plans for reform – but the University and College Union will press ahead with a strike ballot.

January 21, 2011

University managers want to phase out final-salary pensions and introduce a pension age of 65 to reduce their costs.

At a meeting yesterday, trustees who govern the £30 billion Universities Superannuation Scheme called for a rethink on two points.

They queried plans to introduce inflation caps, which were among the most controversial of the changes proposed by employers.

Pensions are index-linked to ensure that their value is not eroded by inflation, but caps would limit these increases.

Critics said the caps – likely to be raised under revised plans – would slash the value of individuals’ pensions in the event of prolonged high inflation.

The trustees also queried employers’ proposals to place a ban on people rejoining the final-salary scheme after more than six months out. The limit is now likely to be raised to two years.

Despite welcoming the trustees’ “concessions”, the UCU said industrial action was “still likely”.

Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, said: “Much more will need to be done if we are to avoid strike action and widespread disruption in our universities.”

The trustees did not contest other major changes proposed by employers, such as the closure of final-salary pensions to new members. It would be replaced by a lower-value career-average scheme.

In addition, the link to the consumer prices index of inflation – a controversial change from the USS’ present link to the higher retail prices index – will remain.

The trustees’ meeting followed a consultation with affected individuals, which closed on 22 December.

The board of trustees said it had considered the consultation responses and “agreed to put forward some suggested modifications to the principal stakeholders and thereafter formally to the Joint Negotiating Committee”. The committee will meet on 1 February.

Brian Cantor, chair of the Employers Pensions Forum and vice-chancellor of the University of York, said the employers supported the trustees’ two revisions.

“These modifications address key concerns raised by members while maintaining the overall reforms needed to ensure that USS is sustainable and affordable in the future,” he added.

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