It was very interesting to read your article ‘Running out of money’ in subtext Issue 188 regarding the vacancy management control. It was even more interesting that two weeks later there was much fanfare on the Staff Intranet announcing that Edward Roberts Court is to undergo a remodelling project. The remodel appears to include new steps, planting, seating areas and some colourful umbrellas, and all for the bargain price of just £1 million.
I’m sure all subtext readers will be delighted to enjoy this new area where they can eat, sit and relax – it will help take their mind off their increased stress, unmanageable workload and decreased wellbeing.
Thanks for covering ‘vacancy control measures’ for Professional Service roles in your last issue. As many readers will know, from the beginning of May, Professional Service vacancies are now only being advertised if they are deemed ‘business critical’, and even these have to be approved by a review panel (consisting of Sarah Randall-Paley, Director of Finance; Paul Boustead, Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development; and a Pro-Vice Chancellor) and ultimately signed off by Nicola Owen, Chief Administrative Officer and Secretary, and the Vice-Chancellor. Professional Service staff will also not be eligible for regrades unless these arise as part of a restructure.
Representatives from UNISON first heard about these measures as they were being implemented, and we were not consulted on them. At a meeting on 2nd May we were told that this is ‘not a hiring freeze’ and that the measures are being put in place because the University is exercising ‘financial caution’, there has been no ‘financial mismanagement’. We were also told that the definition of ‘business critical’ was ‘to be agreed’ – we hope that it has been, but we have not been informed of the criteria.
Our members have raised a number of concerns with us about the potential increase of workloads and resulting stress, effects on flexible working requests, and cover for secondments, amongst other things. Perhaps most worryingly, we have heard that maternity cover roles have been turned down because they are not deemed ‘business critical’. We appreciate that this could be rumour; we certainly hope it is. It is worth remembering that the University is currently attempting to renew its institutional Athena SWAN Bronze Award. Presumably the awarding panel will not look favourably upon an institution that does not fill vacancies created by maternity leave.
So far, the measures have led to a significant reduction in the number of ‘Support – Administrative’ roles that have been advertised but have had seemingly less impact on the number of ‘Professional/Management’ vacancies. Is this because the aforementioned review panel does not deem grade 1-6 roles to be ‘business critical’?
If any of our members (or indeed anyone else) would like to inform us of how they have been affected by the ‘control measures’, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org. We will continue to represent our members and raise issues we know about at meetings with HR.
UNISON Executive Committee, Lancaster University Branch
Thank you for your piece on the Professional Services ‘vacancy management control’. It is extremely alarming that requests to advertise for maternity covers posts have been knocked back. My own grapevine (i.e. random chitchat with colleagues across campus) tells me there have been at least three cases. As far as I’m aware, two of those posts did eventually get approved, but not without having to submit a strong business case, through what is a pretty arduous process.
How is a woman in a professional services role to feel now about the prospect of taking maternity leave, knowing that her colleagues may ‘just have to pick up the slack’? How is she to feel about informing her team that she has decided to extend her leave beyond the period she had originally intended to take? How on earth did we get so quickly to a position that a pregnant employee might be viewed as a liability to her team?
And not just pregnant women. What about staff requesting to reduce their hours in order to take on childcare or other caring responsibilities? From a line manager’s point of view, that is now staff time that is lost, with no guarantee that a backfill post would be approved.
Or what about anyone who wants to go on a secondment? Secondments are often the only route to promotion for professional services staff, particularly those based in academic departments. However, the feeling on the ground now is that, as a line manager, you would have to be pretty brave or mad to give permission to one of your team to go on secondment, with no guarantee that you will be able to appoint backfill.
I’m sure that senior management would say that none of these things are in any way the intention of the vacancy controls, and there may well be specific circumstances at play in the cases that have come up. But the point is that the controls are inviting managers to take up attitudes (‘pregnant’ / ‘part-time’ / ‘secondment’ equals ‘problem’), that are already out there and starting to take root. It doesn’t matter if this is not the message that senior management intended to send – this is the message that has been received by professional services staff, and with good reason. This situation is putting line managers in a horrible position, with a choice between, on the one hand, being supportive of family-friendly working and/or team members’ career development, and on the other hand, trying to protect the wellbeing of the team as a whole in the face of increasing workloads.
If there is a large hole in the University’s balance sheet and steps need to be taken to remedy this, then we all need to share the burden. A department’s ability to weather financial storms shouldn’t be contingent on the reproductive / family / retirement plans of its staff. With plans underway for a £6 million expansion to the Sports Centre, and a £1 million remodelling of Edward Roberts Court, I think it would be timely for the University to try and salvage some of the goodwill of a group of staff who are being told, yet again, ‘you are not an asset – you are a cost’.
As an undergraduate student, I am a member of probably the least-consulted demographic of the University in the ‘search for a new Vice-Chancellor’. Nonetheless, I was able to sneak into one of the Big Conversations on the topic, a Dame Sue Black-style event involving splitting into smaller groups and feeding ideas back into the middle. While I fear these kind of events will be used as a justification for removing actual democratic participation in University affairs, I was able to contribute what I see as some of the most pressing issues a new VC will face, including student data handling and privacy, institutional inequalities in race and gender, the ethical stance (or lack of it) of university policy, the hostile environment and international students, issues with outsourcing and contracting arrangements, and whether the University wants to serve as a model for regressive policies across the country, such as with the abolition of University Court or the revised protest code.
Everyone else was an academic or in professional services, but the room reached broad consensus that the new VC should focus on the University and wider local community, should avoid making false promises, should focus on the unique aspects of Lancaster rather than trying to become more like every other university, should not fixate on league tables, should be more accessible, and several other things. The current timeline suggests a new Vice-Chancellor in Spring 2020. It will be interesting to see, two or three years on, how much of this has been ignored.
A response received after an email to Events Office requesting to know how we would advertise Department events on the University Events page – https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/events/ – does explain why the majority of listings are ‘campus tours’:
‘Please keep in mind that for your events to be approved on the Events page they will need to be accessible to the public in terms of content, it cannot be too academic focused…’
Add to this what you want, the Admin in this department found it very funny, leaving us questioning what exactly is ‘too academic’?
Name and address supplied
I normally avoid buying food on campus as I know it is a rip off, but today I really needed some carrots. I was faced with a choice of:
1. Central where they sell them at 10p each so everyone takes the largest/best. All that was left was some small manky ones. This approach is obviously going to encourage food waste because people will not buy the small ones. I have been there when they have been throwing those out.
2. Spar where they sell pre-packed 500 gram bags at 85p. That is £1.70 per kilo, approximately 3 times the price of Booths.
Does the University not feel any responsibility to ensure that students have access to fairly priced fresh food on campus?