UCU leaders back austerity plan

Staff costs may be slashed to plug budget hole

February 7, 2013

The University and College Union is considering slashing its staffing costs by per cent and scrapping its annual congress to plug a £2 million hole in its yearly finances.

As part of a radical restructure, the union’s national executive committee has voted to support a three-year financial recovery plan that is committed to reducing the UCU’s annual workforce costs from £9.4 million to £7.4 million by 2015-16.

The plan may recommend that the UCU congress be held biennially rather than annually, which would save around £500,000 over two years.

Smaller savings could be made if fewer delegates were sent to congress or if the union’s 72-strong executive committee were reduced in size, the union’s senior management team has argued.

The vote on the cost-cutting plan - passed by 33 votes to 23 - took place on 25 January.

More detailed proposals will be submitted to the NEC in March before being presented to the union’s congress in May for final approval.

The plan follows the presentation of a report on the union’s long-term financial future, obtained by Times Higher Education, which explains that the UCU has lost around 7,000 members since June 2011 (about 460 a month in the 2011-12 academic year).

Assuming that the union has lost and will continue to lose a further 250 net members a month, it would expect a subscription shortfall of £560,000 for 2012-13 compared with 2011-12, rising to £1.4 million a year by 2015- 16, the report warned.

Unavoidable cost increases mean that the union will need to find an additional £460,000 a year by 2014-15 to meet its operating costs, and must also put aside an extra £600,000 for essential capital spending over the next two years, the report added.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said the recovery plan would “inevitably mean difficult decisions for all parts of the union”.

“But grasping the nettle now…rather than waiting until it is too late is the right thing to do if we want to secure the UCU’s future as an effective, independent trade union,” she added.

The austerity plan seeks to reduce the union’s annual running costs from £17 million to £15 million and cut staff costs as a percentage of turnover from 57 per cent to between 44 and 47 per cent.

However, Tom Hickey, chairman of the University of Brighton’s UCU branch and a member of the union’s executive, said he was dismayed by the approach.

“Having two years between conferences in a rapidly changing world in which higher education is going through the biggest changes since the [1960s] Robbins report seems like a strange way to go,” he said.

Professor Hickey added that the union should seek to recruit more members rather than cut costs, arguing that this was possible if the UCU could demonstrate that it was “winning victories” for its members on pay and conditions.

“I think there is potential [for] doubling the membership,” he said.

However, a motion proposed by Professor Hickey at last month’s meeting, which recommended raising members’ subs in line with salaries, no compulsory redundancies and preservation of the annual congress, was rejected by the executive.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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