Thoughts on the latest webinar
Another all-staff webinar was held on 11 May 2022: Creating the Conditions for Success at Surrey.
The webinar was hosted by the Vice-President Strategy, Planning and Performance. The main speakers were the Chief Operating Officer and the Chief People Officer. There were no academic speakers on the webinar.
Staff can watch a recording or read the transcript via the SurreyNet intranet pages here: https://surreynet.surrey.ac.uk/news-views/news/202205/creating-conditions-success-surrey-part-2-staff-webinar-0
Professional Services and key worker loyalty
The discussion around outsourcing began with a recognition that Professional Services staff are essential to the success of the University. However, this was quickly followed-up with a warning that the University must start thinking differently in the current economic climate. Reference was made to digitisation, simplification and fundamentally changing the way things are done.
We would urge the institution’s leadership team to never forget the fantastic work of our essential frontline staff in keeping our University operating during the pandemic. The loyalty of these key workers should never be forgotten, and it is an absolute priority that they are retained in-house, with sector staff benefits, embedded in our University ‘culture’. This is the appropriate way to demonstrate that our Professional Services staff are valued properly.
Outsourcing models: a Reverse Robin Hood?
Management was asked to explain the benefits of the Cervus+ model (a separate company into which many colleagues have already been outsourced). They said that many commercial organisations would immediately outsource to a third-party provider. The potential and demonstrated negative impact/s of this was acknowledged. However, reference was made to the University creating its own companies (or ‘vehicles’ as they were referred to).
It seems reasonable to conclude that the motivation behind outsourcing (or creating our own vehicles) at Surrey would be to lower costs. This would normally be achieved by lowering the value of the benefits package for those staff affected. Management made a comparison to the Sports Park which was set up as a separate company. They did not mention that the benefits packages for most staff are lower there.
Management then went on to explain that the benefit of the Cervus+ model was that the University was able to pay specialist staff more.
As a result, another reasonable conclusion appears to be that a small number of people will be paid more when they are outsourced to Cervus+, but large numbers of staff in other areas would receive less after being outsourced to another ‘vehicle’ (for example, potentially one of the other companies that appear to have already been set up at Companies House). It would be Robin Hood Reversed.
Fair pay and reward
We cannot understand why the University feels it is necessary to go to all the time, effort, and expense of setting-up new companies to pay people more. The argument that they can’t pay people fairly under the existing University pay scheme is flawed. The unions have no objections to people being paid more when there is transparent decision-making, and this is justified. The formal annual joint Union pay claims repeatedly lobby HE employers to pay their staff increases at least in line with inflation, and for years, the employers have implemented substandard offers in return. You don’t need to outsource people to pay them fairly. We have also noticed that Cervus+ have been recruiting new administrative staff at what appears to be below the normal University pay scales.
When asked if there were specific plans to outsource particular parts of the University, Management said that it was a work in progress. They went on to outline the considerations that would be made when making decisions on which areas should be outsourced. They vaguely stated that ‘affinity’ with the University and specialism for the HE sector would be a key factor in this.
There was much talk about affinity, loyalty, and commitment, but this seems to clash with the potential outcome that many loyal, committed staff with a deep connection to the University could be outsourced to a separate company. They would no longer work for the University and would be very likely to receive an inferior benefits package. How this would demonstrate University values to these colleagues is mystifying.
When specifically asked if there were plans to outsource cleaning teams, Management replied that they did not like the word ‘outsource’ but that they would consider putting staff into one of the University’s ‘vehicles’.
Our view is simple: we oppose any process that deteriorates staff terms and conditions, whatever terminology is used to do this. Let us not forget, an alternative phrase to ‘outsourcing’ could be ‘fire and rehire’.
Race to the bottom?
The three campus unions at Surrey oppose harmful outsourcing and are deeply concerned by the potential for this to spread to all parts of our campus. A culture of declining workplace benefits affects us all sooner or later. Rather than racing to the bottom, we encourage the University to strive to be an employer of choice.
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