Tag Archives: Issue 182

subtext 182 – ‘better late than ever’

Every so often during term time.

Letters, contributions, & comments: subtext-editors@lancaster.ac.uk

Back issues & subscription details: http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/subtext/about/

In this issue: editorial, staff survey, unions, lusu, fascists, academies, musicians’ co-op, all workers are men, fire, offshoring, buses, widden, eating, letters.



In days gone by vice-chancellors used to boast about how many cranes their campus featured (see subtext 9). These days, their prevailing rally cry seems to be ‘It’s definitely not us’, as they rush to reassure their students, staff and other interested parties that they are not one of the three universities that is close to bankruptcy – perhaps because of the very cranes, and associated building projects.

Of the universities in the North West, one of which is allegedly in this unfortunate position, Bolton’s VC George E Holmes was quick off the mark to let people know how healthy his, er, his university’s finances were via the media, while our very own Mark E Smith (readers may wonder whether a middle name beginning with an ‘E’ is a prerequisite to be VC of a North-Western uni) chose to share the good news that it is someone else in his recent all-staff meeting. No doubt other VCs will follow, though there has thus far been a conspicuous silence from the University of Cumbria, which has been running at a loss according to the most recent set of accounts available on its website, and whose financial woes were highlighted by The Guardian as long ago as January (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/jan/30/fears-university-closures-office-for-students).

Among all these denials of bad fortune, there seem to be few VCs willing to stick their necks out and talk about what a colossally stupid idea it is to run universities as if they were part of a market, and treat education as a tradeable commodity like cheese. If a university were allowed to close because of bankruptcy, a number of media sources have pointed out this would have a huge impact not only on current students, but would also lead to hundreds if not thousands of job losses, and – for universities in smaller towns or cities – could devastate the local economy. The tarnished reputation of degrees from a failed university may also impact on the government’s favourite indicator of HE success, namely employability. While it seems unlikely that the university sector will somehow reverse the relentless onslaught of marketisation, perhaps one or more bankruptcies and the subsequent mess may be just the wake-up call we need to change course. Just as long as it’s definitely not us!


The 2018 staff survey is now live. This has been covered by subtext already (see subtext 178 for example) but the real excitement for us this month is whether UCU’s call for a boycott will gain any traction. After all, our staff traditionally take the path of least resistance with the biennial survey and ‘just do it’. It can’t hurt, can it? Presumably the university takes our comments on board.

A look at the current staff survey results page at:


is not very encouraging, opening as it does with ‘the results are in for the Lancaster University Staff Survey 2014,’ and linking to Capita’s report from January 2015. Turnout – 63%. Hm, can we find any record of the 2016 exercise anywhere? After a bit of work, we found it on Box. Turnout – 73%.

Rather like the National Student Survey, staff surveys consist of statements to which we can ‘agree’, ‘tend to agree’, ‘tend to disagree’ or ‘disagree’. Responses in 2016 were generally ‘positive’, although subtext wonders whether it is really so positive that 26% agreed with ‘relationships at work are strained’, while 36% disagreed with ‘I feel fairly rewarded for the work I do.’

Whatever their misgivings, UCU has actively participated – as HR is keen to remind people – in the Staff Survey Planning Group all year, so why the boycott now? According to the email sent to Lancaster UCU members by the branch Vice-Chair, UCU ‘sought to engage with the management response to the last survey, but this was not made possible for us to do in a meaningful way. […] A questionnaire-based staff survey could conceivably be used to support collegiate workplace improvement, but the current approach does not lend itself to doing this.’

Specifically, UCU feels, benchmarking our results against other institutions is flawed, because management will think, ‘if we do not get worse result than the rest of the sector, then all is fine,’ and benchmarking requires standardised questions which ‘severely limits what we can say freely due to the lack of open-ended questions and what we can learn about local conditions.’ Benchmarking also relies on using Capita, and LUCU ‘has ongoing concerns about relying on Capita, given their track record.’

Improvements to the staff experience due to the 2016 survey do seem to be rather limited. On the 2018 staff survey site, examples given are a revamp of the Employee Assistance Programme, more flexible benefits, a ‘clearer PDR process’ (ahem! – see subtext 153) and, thanks to the faculty professional services project, creating ‘a more positive environment for thinking and talking about change which, in turn, has created a more positive platform for change.’ Feedback from those for whom ‘change’ meant ‘P45’ does not seem to have been highlighted.

Will the UCU boycott have an effect? If it reduces the turnout compared with 2016 then, just maybe, the university might consider something different for 2020. Or maybe not.


Every year the five main UK Higher Education unions (including the three recognised at Lancaster University) haggle and bargain over pay rates for staff in the sector with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA, acronym fans!).

This year the unions’ joint claim was for an increase of 7.5% or £1500 (FTE) whichever is higher, and a minimum wage of £10 per hour, plus demands around the gender pay gap and precarious contracts. Full details here: http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/9311/UCUBANHE29/pdf/HE_Pay_claim_submitted.pdf

UCEA’s final offer was a pay increase of 2% or £425 (FTE), whichever is higher, alongside promises to tackle the gender pay gap and casualisation issues at a sector level. Full details here: https://www.ucea.ac.uk/download.cfm/docid/CD07D3D7-EBCE-4027-9FB2DF4F48C39D6E

Unsurprisingly, most of the unions rejected the UCEA offer, and both Unison and UCU decided to ballot their members about taking industrial action.

Now. Given that there has to be co-ordination and communication at a national level to do this, and given that UCU have recently taken successful industrial action over pensions (that arguably only really affected the highest paid staff) and given that the gender pay gap at Lancaster University is the third worst in the country, and… well, you’d think that there would also be a level of joined-upness locally…

Erm, well, no. UCU and Unison ballots went ahead at Lancaster University simultaneously, with the left hand not knowing what the… left hand was doing. Just think what a little joined up thinking and campaigning could have achieved.

On a national level, despite a high turnout from UCU members, very few institutions met the 50% turnout legal requirement. Lancaster hit 44.9%, though among those members who did return their ballots, 69.7% supported strike action and 80.7% action short of a strike. In Unison, an ‘overwhelming majority’ of HE members voted to take strike action, but unfortunately that tricky 50% turnout threshold was once again not reached.

Our subtext drones made discreet enquiries amongst professional services colleagues to see if we could get a comment from a Unison member, but everyone had their heads down. In the end we asked the branch contact for a few words:

‘The Lancaster University Unison branch has been dormant for quite some time, and there’s currently just me and one other volunteer who are trying to get things up and running again. We didn’t have members’ contact details to try and organise any meetings around the pay offer. It would have been really good to know that UCU were also balloting, maybe hold some joint meetings, share information and campaign together about this.’

On the other hand, we just had to lob a brick out of the warehouse window to hit a UCU member who was prepared to comment:

‘On this occasion it looks like Lancaster UCU missed an opportunity to collaborate with Unison. There are numerous issues on which we already do work together with our sister unions, and we will try to continue to stand up for all University staff by standing together with Unison and Unite.’

Given the current state of affairs in the subtext warehouse (see subtext 181 editorial) we totally recommend being in a union, but please give your branch officers a prod to talk to the other ones!


Speaking of unions, the students’ union is planning a restructure:


The October meeting of its trustee board agreed a reduction in the number of full-time officers from six to five, keeping the President but replacing the proliferation of five Vice-Presidents (activities, campaigns & communications, education, welfare & community, and union development) with four new posts: activities officer, education officer (undergraduate), postgraduate officer, and welfare officer. There will be a referendum in Week 8, and campaign teams for and against are being formed this week.

So, aside from the cosmetic name changes, we’re losing campaigns & communications, and union development, in favour of a full-time postgraduate officer. Not many are likely to oppose the loss of the union development post (formerly the General Secretary, aka ‘the President’s sidekick’), but the loss of a full-time political role in charge of LUSU media is more significant, and as for the proposal that undergraduates should be allowed to both stand and vote for the full-time postgraduate officer – well, good luck justifying that to the PG Board!

Student media at Lancaster is now de-politicised, barring a few exceptions on SCAN’s team, so the loss of a full-time media sabbatical might just reflect reality. The days when SCAN could openly oppose the union’s political strategy are long gone. The activities officer gets to be SCAN’s editor-in-chief, but only as a small part of their brief.

How, though, did the proposal get through to allow undergraduates to vote (and so have the decisive vote) on the postgraduate (who doesn’t have to be a postgraduate) officer? We’re told that, ‘as the officer would be a senior/full-time officer of the students’ union and a trustee, legally any student will be eligible to vote for them. It wouldn’t be restricted to postgraduates.’ What’s more, ‘any full member of the students’ union would be eligible to stand for this role – even if they’re not actually a postgraduate student themselves.’

Our legal correspondent describes this as ‘bollocks’. Exhibit A – UCL Union, which has a sabbatical Postgraduate Students’ Officer, open only to, and chosen only by, postgraduate students. Admittedly, we wouldn’t be the only students’ union to let undergraduates choose its postgraduate officer – Warwick seems to do it, and of course whenever Warwick does anything, Lancaster soon follows.


Everyone’s least favourite fascist not-quite-a-student-society has been putting up posters on campus this week. In an unintentional parody of the ‘back to the good old days’ element of their rhetoric, the posters are composed mainly of cut and pasted ‘newspaper headlines’ that actually seem to have been printed off the internet. They are largely sensationalist in tone, with the usual semi-deranged rants about marginalised groups. Keeping up the virtual note, this non-soc suggest you contact them via their social media channels. How about you don’t do that.


Lancashire’s schools used to be a mostly academy-free zone. The previous Labour-led administration at County Hall were strongly against them, and even devised a cunning plan to employ if the government ordered them to ‘academise’ every school in the county. This would involve establishing a wholly-owned but technically arms-length company to act as an ‘academy chain in name only’.

How things change. It’s likely that, by the end of 2018, there will be no more local authority controlled mainstream secondary schools in the Lancaster district. In the last 12 months, Heysham High has been taken over by Star Academies (prop. Tauheedul in Blackburn), Carnforth High has been taken over by the Bay Education Trust (prop. Ripley St Thomas) and now the last two, Morecambe High and Central Lancaster High, seem likely to join the Bay Education Trust also.

In Morecambe’s case, this is happening against its will – if you do badly in an Ofsted inspection, you must suffer – but Central’s bid for conversion, which has not yet been confirmed, is voluntary, led by the head and (most of) the governors. An extraordinary meeting of the governing body on Wednesday 21 November will make the final decision, taking the views of parents, teachers and the local community into account.

In theory. Looking at the consultation documents, in particular the formal letter sent to parents by the head on 5 October, subtext predicts a strong majority in favour of conversion. Why? Naturally the letter is careful not to show any bias on the part of its author: ‘Working together […] will enable teachers to share resources and training […]; we hope to make all three of the strong schools in the Trust even better!’ And the response form is a masterpiece of even-handed data gathering, as parents are asked to choose from options 1, 2 and 3:

‘Option 1 – I have a number of comments I would personally like to make and I attach a letter for consideration of the Governing Body.’

‘Option 2 – I would like to know more about the proposals and would be interested in attending a short meeting on 17th October with other parents to ask further questions for clarification.’

‘Option 3 – I am quite happy with the proposals and I don’t need more information.’

In other words, if you just tick the box, we’ll leave you alone; but if you don’t share our vision, you need to tell us WHY, and we want DETAILS, and we want to hear from you PERSONALLY. And if you want to just say you aren’t happy – well, that’s not on the list.


Musical subtext readers will be aware of the Lancaster Music Co-op. Founded by former students in 1985 in a semi-abandoned former coachbuilder’s premises, the Co-op has run as a not-for-profit rehearsal rooms and recording studio for 33 years. A lot of people credit the Music Co-op as being the reason that Lancaster has a disproportionately large live music scene for its size (and can thus support large tourist-attracting events such as the Music Festival).

But the Music Co-op is under threat, having recently been handed an eviction notice from Lancaster City Council because their building is unsafe, mainly due to the state of the roof (although curiously – they have six months to depart so there is clearly no immediate danger to life and limb). So what, you might ask, why should we care if a bunch of musos can’t manage their building properly? The wrinkle in this story is that the Music Co-op is an island of creativity in a sea of car parks that has picturesquely been designated the ‘Canal Quarter’ (see subtext 179). And also: the building is owned by the City Council.

The City Council have kept the Music Co-op on an rolling 2-week lease with a peppercorn rent for 30+ years, a lease that effectively prevents them from accessing any funding to develop the premises or the enterprise, as what funder wants to give money to a project that could be kicked out with two weeks notice? And each developer (Centros Miller, British Land) that has been involved in the regeneration of this area of Lancaster has dangled different carrots in terms of rehoming the Co-op or fixing the building. As owners of the building, the Council have done no repairs themselves.

There is an ongoing campaign by the Music Co-op to rescind their eviction notice, which went viral last month, with national press attention and support from The Lovely Eggs (who started at the Co-op), Phill Jupitus, Marc Riley, Sleaford Mods, John Robb and Billy Bragg amongst others. Thousands of people signed a petition to save the Co-op; local MP Cat Smith has called on the Council to sort things out; and within the Council itself a cross-party group of Councillors is pushing for the rescinding of the eviction notice and for constructive talks about how the Co-op can be supported.

Want to know more? You can watch ‘Glass Roof’, the documentary made to celebrate 30 years of the Music Co-op, here: https://youtu.be/UuHCa-khx-Q (get ready to spot at least one member of LU staff, and the most ingenious indoor rainwater diversion device ever!). If you’ve got the urge to donate, you can contribute to their crowdfunder here: https://www.gofundme.com/save-lancaster-music-co-op


People in the Management School have been confused in recent weeks by signs visible around the fire doors outside Lecture Theatre 4 stating ‘CAUTION: Men Working Overhead’ – many staff on the top floor of LUMS are actually female! On closer inspection, it appears that the signs were put up by Bagnalls Painting & Decorating, who seem to operate a strict men-only policy for work that’s too high for the ladies to reach, even in heels. The subtext collective are left wondering whether University procurement regulations require external contractors to demonstrate equal opportunities practices, and whether we can invite external contractors to Gender Pay Gap meetings.


We’re used to seeing the fire brigade on campus, often due to a false alarm, but they were really needed at 10pm on Monday 15 October when a fire started in Furness Launderette due to a faulty dryer. Furness was evacuated, dozens of students gathered to watch from the hill leading to the residence blocks, and the porters were looking worried for a while. Everything was brought under control, fortunately, and the next morning the only sign that all had not been well was that the launderette was closed for repairs. Well done to everyone who worked hard to avert what could have been a very serious incident.


Choosing somewhere to live as a student is no mean feat. With the advent of ensuite accommodation, the days of a manky shared house and rows over whose milk is whose in the fridge may be gone for many, but there are still hurdles that the student renter has to face, not least: is their hard-borrowed cash ending up helping offshore investors evade UK income tax?

Research by Lancaster City Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox shows that a number of flats or houses rented out to Lancaster University students are owned or managed by offshore companies:

– 1-3 Cable Street (233 rooms) is part of Global Student Accommodation (GSA). GSA is ultimately incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and the Cable St property is owned by a Jersey company.
– The site of the Bulk Road student village (631 rooms, and nicknamed ‘Asthma Towers’ by one of our long-standing readers), currently under development by American company Hines, is owned by a Jersey-based company called HPH Lancaster Limited.
– A house in Dallas Rd is owned by a Seychelles-based company, and properties on Greaves Rd, Albion St and Prospect St are owned by a Jersey-based company.

This information has been provided to the students’ unions at Lancaster University and University of Cumbria, who will hopefully steer students away from paying rent to these companies in favour of landlords who aren’t avoiding UK taxation.


Our bus correspondent reports… locals in Bowerham and Hala are becoming increasingly irritated as they realise that what was a rather good number 2 bus service (6 double-deckers an hour) has become a distinctly inferior service (4 single-deckers an hour). This wouldn’t matter so much if they could get a seat, but for much of the day, as subtext readers know very well, this is a forlorn hope. What’s happening?

subtext understands the main problem is that, whereas previously the number 2 only went to and from the underpass, it now makes the circuit of Alexandra Park formerly taken by the number 3 (RIP). If you’re getting on at Cartmel, you’re unlikely to want to change to a number 1 at the underpass, so you’ll sit tight, despite the longer journey time. Hence the number 2 is now trying to ferry more people with fewer buses.

Longer term, the only solution looks like running more double-deckers – which Stagecoach currently doesn’t have. Stagecoach Group plc’s pre-tax profit in 2017-18: £95.3 million.


Contributed by Martin Widden

The composer J S Bach was very skilled at reusing pieces he had composed for other purposes, a practice he often adopted to enable him to meet the many tight deadlines he was set by his employers. But the St Matthew Passion is unusual among Bach’s major sacred works in having been composed as a whole, rather than being put together or adapted from music he had on the shelf. A devout Christian, Bach evidently regarded the composition of this work as a highly important matter in his life – it is tightly structured, and we are told that the manuscript is much more neatly finished than those for most of his works.

In these relatively faithless times, it fortunately isn’t necessary to be a Christian to appreciate the wonders of this work. The Passion is an account of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Christ, a tale that includes capture, denial, betrayal, and appeal to the instincts of the crowd (as we know, they preferred Barabbas, a known crook, to Jesus, and Pilate washed his hands of their decision). It is a dramatic story, and Bach’s treatment of it exploits the dramatic potential of the story to the full.

The University’s 2018-19 international concert season opened with a performance of the St Matthew Passion by English Touring Opera, presented in Lancaster Priory Church. The principal soloists sang their parts from memory, without books or copies. They were thus able to move around the church engaging the audience with eye contact. As a member of the audience, it was sometimes a little unnerving to be addressed from a distance of only a metre or two by a powerful singer, especially if you weren’t quite expecting it, but the dramatic effect was very strong, and to have the piece performed by an opera company seemed completely appropriate.

The story is told by the Evangelist. This is a big part – very reasonably, it was shared among several singers – and as they sang in German, it was useful to have surtitles on screens at the front of the church. The part of Christ is always accompanied by sustained strings, representing his halo remarkably effectively. The chorus was formed of local singers. Putting all this together is a considerable logistical triumph, since there is little time for rehearsal with everyone present, but no hitches were detectable on the night.

English Touring Opera are performing the St Matthew Passion at some eleven locations around the country. To witness and be part of one of these performances was a great experience: we were fortunate that one of them was given here in Lancaster.


As part of a possibly ongoing series of reviews of the places that matter on campus (i.e. food and drink venues) we have dispatched our gaggle of taster drones on a culinary fact finding mission. The first to report back was last seen in public staggering out of Go Burrito, clutching its stomach-parts and softly whimpering ‘can’t… eat… any… moar’.

The campus Go Burrito started as a rather ingenious attempt to keep a business afloat – or rather, not afloat, given the mothership premises are on Church Street in Lancaster, in one of the areas of the city centre worst affected by flooding following Storm Desmond in late 2015.

The formula is relatively simple, and superficially reminiscent of the Starbucks/Subway style choice system, where customers are given a series of increasingly complex options about what exactly they want in their food. At Go Burrito, fortunately, rather than over-sweetened and overpriced coffee drinks or limp-looking bread rolls topped with limp-looking other stuff, the choices are rather more appealing. Patrons are invited to choose their burrito size, type of beans, spicy or mild rice, main filling (a choice of around 5-6 meat or vegetarian options including beef/veggie chilli, pulled pork, stir fry veg, and sometimes specials), salsas of various spiciness, and a large selection of other fillings including jalapeños, guacamole and, for some bizarre reason, crushed tortilla chips.

There isn’t much in the way of sides: currently curly fries or nachos, and the hot cheese sauce is a bit too like what you might find in a cinema chain (our drone preferred sour cream as a topping). The drinks are also a little on the sugary side (who even knew that Lilt still existed?), but by and large Go Burrito offers a decent lunch of not too unhealthy fast-food at non-astronomical prices. And if you ramp up the spice levels enough, you might even be able to stay awake after lunch despite having consumed a large burrito oozing with cheesy chilli goodness.


Dear subtext,

Re: car parking and passes

Ah for the heady days of yesteryear (well about 18 years ago) when car park passes were collected in person from the security office. And parking, at least on a Friday (or POETS day – Push Off Early Tomorrow’s Saturday) meant my husband and young son could parallel park on the back carpark across as many spaces as they wanted (yes, it was that empty) with our caravan in tow. They’d get the kettle on and have a brew while waiting for me to finish work before a weekend escape to the Lake District. Eeh, them were t’ days.

Irene Dudley-Swarbrick
Teaching Fellow, Project Management Unit, 1999-2001


Dear subtext,

While I never met any Freemasons during my time at Lancaster (or since for that matter), I do recall seeing posters on the spine advertising for new members. I think this was at the start of my third year – October 2012. A secret society advertising struck me as rather defeating the point!


Jack Fleming