We undersigned are members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). We are writing regarding a key point of information which UUK will hold, which could substantially affect the current industrial dispute between university staff and universities. This is the so-called contributions ‘holiday’ or reduction in contributions that we understand employers made to USS from the late 1990s for a number of years.
On 26 March 2018, Professor Kurt Mills at the University of Dundee sent a tweet to UUK about this, and UUK responded very quickly, saying:
'Hello. To clarify: USS employers have never taken a contributions holiday. While many other employers took contribution holidays in the late 1990s, USS employers carried on paying a substantial contribution of 14% of salaries.’
While we appreciate the prompt response (which we note was broadly comparable to another tweet from UUK about 4 weeks earlier), we found it somewhat curious and potentially incomplete, since it is our understanding that universities had been paying a higher rate (perhaps 18.55%) which was then reduced to 14%, without a concomitant reduction in staff contributions. It would be helpful to us and many others who are interested in this issue (given the number of retweets of Professor Kurt Mills' tweets as well as other related tweets) if you could further clarify the situation and answer the following questions which, you will be aware, Professor Mills have raised repeatedly on Twitter with no response.
1) Did UK universities reduce their contributions in percentage terms to USS during the 1990s and 2000s?
2) a) what was the scale of that reduction (both in percentage terms and absolute value) and b) what was the timescale of the reduction?
3) Why did universities reduce their contributions?
4) Why were employee contributions not also reduced?
5) Was this reduction imposed unilaterally or was it negotiated with UCU?
6) If you do not like the term contributions holiday, what term would you use to describe this period of reduced contributions?
The answers to these questions could play a significant role in individual decision-making on whether to vote for the deal UUK has proposed to resolve the dispute, and thus UUK should be completely open and transparent on this issue. It would help us better understand the financial background to the current purported deficit in USS (there have been assertions that the reduction in contributions itself might have contributed to this deficit, which, if true, would be very concerning). Further, given your assertion that you wish to rebuild trust between staff and UUK, providing a complete response to this inquiry is an important part of this trust-building process.
In addition, given the very tight timeframe for making decisions on your proposed deal, it is imperative that this information be provided as a matter of extreme urgency. Given that UUK was able to respond to Professor Kurt Mills' original tweet within minutes, we assume you have this information close at hand, and thus it would not be a burden to respond quickly (and certainly in enough time in advance of the UCU vote on your proposed deal so that all have access to this important information). Further, given that you recognise Twitter as a useful platform for engagement, we believe you should also simultaneously provide this information directly on the UUK Twitter feed.
Thank you in advance for your timely response to our urgent queries.