The absurd timetable of the Reverse USS! proposal

The 11-day question which supporters of the proposal cannot and will not answer

Michael Otsuka
4 min readJan 6, 2023

If there were ever a group for which collective responsibility among its members made sense, it would have to be a group of union negotiators. But a minority of one of the five UCU negotiator on JNC and one of the two UCU alternates to JNC think otherwise. These two “UCU Left USS negotiators” have launched a public campaign in favour of a proposal to restore all pension benefits by the 1st of April 2023. This in spite of the fact that they have been unable to persuade any of the other five JNC members and alternative that their proposal is anything other than hopelessly unrealistic.

Branch UCU members are being asked to support a motion backing this proposal. If anyone asks you to support this motion, please ask them to explain how it will be possible to overcome the difficulties listed below in completing the 60-day member consultation in time. Please ask them to address the specific problems listed below rather than responding with vague generalities.

In order, as proposed, to restore the DB/DC salary threshold to c. £60k by the 1st of April, employers would be required by law to first complete a member consultation lasting at least 60 days. (The other elements of the proposed restoration — accrual rate and inflation protection — do not require member consultation.)

For this consultation to be other than a sham, some time would be needed to analyse and produce a report on the consultation responses, for the USS Board and JNC to consider. Let’s optimistically pretend that this could all be compressed into the last 7 days of March. On this optimistic assumption, the consultation would need to be launched no later than Monday the 23rd of January.

For such a launch to occur, the following would first need to happen:

The branch motion calls on HEC “to adopt the ‘Reverse USS’ proposal as the basis for negotiation” at its meeting on Thursday the 12th of January and to “push for its adoption by the USS JNC”. (This HEC meeting could not occur sooner, since it needs to receive a report on the feedback from the Branch Delegate’s Meeting scheduled for the 10th of January.)

The branch motion declares that:

there is a short time window before USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meets on 8 February 2023. This is a crucial meeting at which it would be possible to agree pension changes to take effect from the start of the new scheme year, 1 April 2023.

Unfortunately, by the 8th of February it will be mathematically impossible to complete the 60 day consultation before the 1st of April.

Rather, all of the following would need to be completed within the 11 days between the 12th and the 23rd of January:

JNC would need to agree during this period to restore benefits by the 1st of April.

In order, however, for JNC to be in a position to agree to this, the USS Board would first need to authorise new costings which reflect 2020 “post-valuation experience”. In the absence of such revised costings, the contributions required to fund such restoration would be exorbitant.

USS has made clear on numerous occasions that they would refuse to authorise costings on this basis (see, e.g, here, here, and here). It is especially clear that they would refuse to do so even before they have completed their “deep dive” analysis of funding conditions as at 31 December 2022. This will not be completed before February.

The board would need to be persuaded to reverse its position. Even if it could be persuaded to do so, it could and would not be persuaded to do so on the spot. The USS executive would, in consultation with the scheme actuary, need to prepare papers making the case for such a reversal of position. It is extremely unrealistic, both to think that the board would reverse its position and that it would do so swiftly.

Only after the Board has reversed its position would JNC members know how much it would cost to restore benefits and hence be in a position to come to a decision regarding the authorisation of this restoration.

At this point, the UUK members of JNC would reasonably insist on sufficient time to consult their members regarding the restoration of benefits at this cost, before they would be in a position to support this restoration and the accompanying required consultation at JNC.

Only then would USS be in a position to launch the consultation.

In order to do so, USS would need to do the following:

Provide all employers with more than 50 members with sufficient notice of the launch of the consultation. They have said in the past that they need to provide employers with several months’ notice of a 60-day member consultations.

The consultation material would need to be drafted and the wording approved. For members to be well informed, there should be a consultation modeller. For the last consultation, two months proved to be insufficient lead time to complete all this.

How is it anything other than a fantasy to think that all of the above would be completed within 11 days?

That is the question you should pose to anyone who asks for your support of this proposal. They will not answer this question, because they can’t.

See also the following earlier posts on the “Reverse USS!” proposal.

‘How the USS cuts cannot be reversed: A critique of the UCU Left negotiators’ proposal to restore benefits by 1 April 2023'

‘An Achilles Heel of the “Reverse USS!” FAQs’



Michael Otsuka

Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers. Previously on UCU national negotiating team for USS pensions.