Statement of the fifteenth meeting of the Tripartite Group

The Tripartite Group discussion continued to focused on: improving the JNC’s effectiveness and re-building trust and confidence. The stakeholders then met again to discuss meeting the needs of members and developing the Strategic Discussion Forum.
 
The Tripartite Group (TG) noted that the JNC Effectiveness Group (JNCEG) were continuing discussions over the “quick wins” that would improve the JNC’s operational effectiveness. The TG reviewed the draft and agreed that the actions identified by the JNCEG were sensible and would make important enhancements to the operation of the JNC. It was noted that the Chair of the JNC was supportive of these developments and would engage as considered appropriate by the JNCEG. The TG proposed some minor amendments to the draft “quick wins” and it was agreed that these would be fed back to the JNCEG. The final iteration of the “quick wins” was expected shortly.
 
The TG continued discussions on how to rebuild trust and confidence. Along with a recognition of the need for confidentiality, and the recognition of roles and responsibilities, communications had been identified as an issue that was undermining trust and confidence. In particular, it was felt it would help the stakeholders if the Trustee could more clearly articulate how and why it had reached particular decisions and rejected other options. It was agreed to develop a ‘straw person’ example of such a communication for further consideration by the TP Group at its next meeting. It was agreed that this could be helpful in  building understanding of the basis of Trustee decisions, whilst acknowledging that others may disagree with the outcome of the decisions. 
 
In their discussions on meeting the needs of members, the stakeholders shared concerns over the high level of opt outs in the Scheme, which was higher than the national average. It was agreed to request further information from USS to understand more fully who was opting out and why. The stakeholders also agreed to develop the Strategic Discussion Forum (SDF) the purpose of which is to consider some of the longer-term issues affecting the Scheme. It was agreed to continue these discussions.

Statement of the fourteenth meeting of the Tripartite Group

Summary note of meeting 14

The Tripartite Group (TG) discussion focused on improving the JNC’s effectiveness and re-building trust and confidence. The stakeholders then met to discuss meeting the needs of members and developing the Strategic Discussion Forum.

The Tripartite Group noted that discussions were continuing within the JNC Effectiveness group (JNCEG) aimed at identifying “quick wins” to improve the operation of the JNC. It was likely that these would cover using pre-meetings with the chair and between the stakeholders to ensure time could be used more efficiently, training for JNC members, and an acceptance that JNC members could have different perspectives on an issue. The TG welcomed the work that had been undertaken to date and was keen to see it move forward. It was noted that the second phase of the JNCEG’s work was intended to kick off in the early autumn and that the JNCEG would draft terms of reference for this exercise shortly. The TG agreed it would be important to focus on the purpose and outcome of this exercise, namely looking at the issues that impede the effectiveness of the JNC (e.g. role and remit) and measures to address them.

The TG started a discussion on how to rebuild trust and confidence. An earlier exercise had identified a number of issues that had undermined trust and confidence. These had been grouped into three themes: disclosure of information and transparency and recognition of confidentiality; improved dialogue, visibility and communications; recognition of respective roles and duties (information flow and talking about the big issues). The TG began a discussion on the first of these issues.

It was agreed that a large amount of data, especially relating to the valuation, was confidential and that there was a need to protect and respect that confidentiality. It was also recognised, and welcomed, that compared to other schemes, USS provides a significant amount of information to members and stakeholders. While recognizing that people may reach different decisions, the TG discussed the need for the Trustee to more clearly articulate how decisions are reached based on the data and evidence available. This would help build understanding of the basis for decisions. In this regard, it was suggested that it would also be helpful to set out why one option was favoured over another. The TG also discussed the specific nature of the USS membership which is based on a culture of constructive, academic challenge using independent analysis and access to data provided without narrative. It was acknowledged that requests for large volumes of data could consume valuable resource. It was agreed to continue this discussion.

In their discussions on meeting the needs of members, the stakeholders shared concerns over the high level of opt outs in the Scheme, are currently in the region of 15-20%. It was agreed that this problem should be addressed. The stakeholders also agreed to develop the Strategic Discussion Forum (SDF) the purpose of which is to consider some of the longer term issues affecting the Scheme. It was agreed to continue these discussions.

Statement of the thirteenth meeting of the tripartite group

The Tripartite Group continued to focus on the JNC and steps that could be taken to improve the effectiveness of the JNC.

The Tripartite Group (TG) considered a note from the JNC Effectiveness Group (JNCEG) which set out in further detail the JNCEG’s approach to taking forward measures to improve the operation of the JNC. The JNCEG had agreed to split its work into two phases:

  • Phase 1: Improvements that could be made in the short term. These could include changes to meeting formalities, a focus on training and induction for new JNC members, more effective use of time and work planning , and a commitment from all parties to improved timeliness of communications etc. It was intended to present a firmer set of ‘quick wins’ to the TP after the summer.
  • Phase 2; A ‘deeper dive’ into the issues that were preventing the JNC from being as effective as the parties wished it to be. This would be a longer piece of work which would likely take a number of months to complete. The JNCEG had also agreed that it could be beneficial to consider decision-making processes in other, large, schemes.
The TG considered this a sensible approach and agreed that the issues to be covered in the deep dive, including consideration of roles and responsibilities, would need a longer discussion. It would be important that that phase of work was clearly defined and the JNCEG was asked to draft a potential Terms of Reference for the TG to review in the context of its initial “asks”.

It was agreed that at a future meeting further discussions would take place to agree arrangements for the Strategic Discussion Forum. It was also agreed to return to the issues of trust and confidence as well as meeting the needs of members.

Statement of the twelfth meeting of the tripartite group

The Tripartite Group continued to focus on the JNC and steps that could be taken to improve the effectiveness of the JNC. This followed earlier discussions which had identified a) some of the factors that were inhibiting the JNC from operating as effectively as it might and b) some of the features of a high-performing, effective JNC. This process had identified some common ground in terms of inhibitors as well as features of effectiveness.

The Tripartite Group considered an update from the JNC Effectiveness Group (JNCEG) which had been commissioned to consider issues around the effectiveness of the JNC. The JNCEG had received two “asks” from the Tripartite Group:

  1. An options paper which considered issues relating to the operation and effectiveness of the JNC, including their pros and cons
  2. To undertake an in-depth analysis to diagnose the JNC’s effectiveness (or otherwise), ie why the JNC is not operating effectively.

The JNCEG discussions had allowed time to consider a series of actions and behaviours which could be adopted by the JNC, stakeholder groups and USS which could contribute to the JNC’s long-term success and the continued building of trust. In particular, these focused on role and remit, trust, use of time and planning and effective meeting operation. The Tripartite Group agreed that the JNCEG’s work was progressing well and that it was clear that some good and honest discussions were taking place.

Based on the output from the JNCEG the Tripartite Group agreed it would be helpful if the JNCEG could consider roles and responsibilities of the JNC and any ways in which this might be different from the current position; views on the time commitment needed by JNC members, noting that there are now more demands on JNC members’ time; solutions as well as the analysis of what does not work well. It was noted that resolving these issues is critical and as such could not, and should not, be rushed.

The Tripartitie Group also considered future work programme. These included defining in further detail the role and scope of the Strategic Discussion Forum and work to help promote greater trust and confidence between the parties. It was noted that these items might require bi-lateral discussions between UCU and UUK initially.

Statement of the eleventh meeting of the tripartite group

Summary Note – Meeting 11

 

The Tripartite Group continued its discussion around improving the effectiveness of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).

 

The Group considered what each party felt ”good” would look like in relation to an effective and high-performing JNC. Views common to all three parties included operating with mutual trust, respect and openness and a clear recognition of roles and responsibilities.

 

The Group went on to consider the factors that currently hinder the effectiveness of the JNC, i.e. prevent it from operating with the features identified as characterising high performing. Issues identified included:

 

  • Issues are not dealt with in a timely fashion and/ or real engagement comes too late in the process;
  • Discussions are often adversarial and rarely collaborative
  • Parties do not always have the information they need
  • Roles and responsibilities may not well understood or can be conflated with other responsibilities.

 

It was agreed to provide these thoughts to the JNCEG to support their additional work diagnosing the factors that hinder the effectiveness (or otherwise) of the JNC. It was noted that the JNCEG would provide a report to the Tripartite Group shortly.

 

The Tripartite Group also received a presentation from UUK which summarized the final report from UUK on its consultation with USS employers on the recommendations of the JEP’s second report. This showed strong support for the JEP’s recommendations. Employers welcomed the proposal for a joint purpose statement, shared valuation principles and sustainability statement. There was also support for the JEP’s proposals around developing alternative paths to the valuation and using a dual discount rate methodology. Employers had also expressed a desire for a focus on value for money and a clear articulation of the trade-offs of risk and reward and how this would contribute to sustainability. There was support for the establishment of a valuation methodology discussion forum (which had already been set up by USS). There was also support for more flexibility for members to address the high level of opt outs from the Scheme. Mutuality was largely seen as being a positive feature of the Scheme.

 

It was agreed that the Tripartite Group would consider its future work programme at its next meeting in June.

Statement of the tenth meeting of the tripartite group

SUMMARY NOTE – MEETING 10

The Tripartite Group received a brief update on the valuation discussion document which had been issued by the Trustee.

The Tripartite Group considered the JNC Effectiveness Group’s (JNCEG) report. This report set out a number of options to improve the effectiveness of the JNC, including the pros and cons of those options. The starting point for this piece of work had been the JEP’s second report, but the JNCEG’s work was not constrained by the JEP’s report. The report set out options covering a wide range of issues relating to the current operation of the JNC and how that might be enhanced.

Following on from its consideration of the JNCEG’s report, the Tripartite Group held a discussion on the JNC’s effectiveness as a result of which a second piece of work was commissioned from the JNCEG.

This second piece of work asked the JNCEG to undertake a more in-depth piece of analysis to
diagnose the JNC’s effectiveness (or otherwise) and to consider the factors that have hindered its effectiveness. In other words, it asks the JNCEG to consider why the JNC is not operating effectively asight be desired. It was proposed that this assessment should take place against the three core functions of the JNC: acting as a check and balance to the Trustee in certain areas; rule changes; and deciding on contribution increases or decreases and/or benefit changes where the cost-sharing provisions are invoked following a valuation. The JNCEG was also asked to consider what “good” might look like in terms of a high-functioning JNC. This exercise would also be undertaken by the stakeholders and the Trustee for discussion at a future meeting.

Finally, it was agreed to seek dates for future meetings in June.

Statement of the ninth meeting of the tripartite group

In light of the government guidelines, the meeting took place via Video Conference.
The Tripartite Group received an update from USS regarding the work of the Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum which had continued to meet.

The Tripartite Group went on to consider the draft report from the JNC Effectiveness Group (JNCEG). This Group had been commissioned by the Tripartite Group to consider and set out options for how the JNC could be made to work more effectively. The JNCEG had been asked to take the JEP’s recommendations as its starting point, but not to be limited by these recommendations. The JNCEG had set out, as its emerging views, a set of options covering a range of issues relating to the operation of the JNC. These included: greater visibility of the USS Board of Directors; the Trustee’s Committee structure and valuation matters; a joint forum on valuation matters; improving the effectiveness of the JNC (which had a number of dimensions); a high-level steering committee on strategic issues; employer representation in USS; and member representation in USS.

The Tripartite Group held high level discussions on the JNCEG’s draft report. It was noted that a number of changes had already been implemented, such as Trustee Director attendance at JNC meetings and the creation of the VMDF. These had helped build understanding of the issues and had helped to build trust and confidence. Discussion took place around how these developments could be further enhanced. The Tripartite Group welcomed the JNCEG’s work and requested further work to be undertaken.

Statement of the eighth meeting of the tripartite group

In light of the emerging issues relating to COVID-19 it was agreed to shorten the meeting to enable stakeholders and the Trustee to respond to current issues.

The Tri-Partite Group agreed the final wording of the joint definition of sustainability. This is attached with this meeting summary, along with the Scheme Purpose Statements from the Stakeholders and the Trustee and the Shared Valuation Principles.

The Tri-Partite Group discussed the work of the Trustee’s Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum (VMDF), which had continued to meet, and the USS Discussion Document which had been published since the Tri-Partite Group had last met.

Stakeholders noted the publication of the Discussion Document by USS. A discussion took place on ensuring that the Discussion Document was as clear as possible. This would in turn ensure that Stakeholders (in particular, participating employers) could respond in as full a manner as possible to aid the Trustee’s deliberations. It was agreed to sat up a call with the Stakeholders’ actuarial advisers (AON and First Actuarial) and USS to discuss and clarify a number of technical issues relating to the Discussion Document.

The Tripartite Group learned that the JNC Effectiveness Group was making good progress and would be ready to present its initial views shortly.

The Tri-Partite Group received a report from UUK summarising the outcome of their consultation with members on the JEP report and matters relating to the 2020 valuation. Overall, the consultation had revealed strong support for the JEP’s recommendations. Areas of support included having a shared common Scheme purpose, the shared valuation principles and a dual discount approach to the valuation methodology. There was a strong support for the JEP’s recommendations around meeting the needs of members and a desire to explore options around contributions flexibility to address the high level of Scheme opt outs. There was a common view that issues needed to be dealt with in parallel to the current valuation cycle.
It was agreed that the next meeting would take place on 24 March. The final format of the meeting and content would remain under review in light of the current situation.

Statements of the sixth and seventh meetings of the tripartite group

Meeting 6

 

The Group received an update of the first meeting of the Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum (VMDF) which the Trustee had established to support and inform the development of the 2020 valuation. The VMDF comprised representatives from the two stakeholders and their advisers as well as representatives from USS, including Trustee Directors. The VMDF  had covered a lot of ground in its first meeting, including discussions on prudence and risk appetite. The Forum’s work would help inform the Trustee’s discussion document on the valuation which would be published in March. Both stakeholders and the Trustee agreed that the VMDF was a valuable forum. UCU and UUK said they thought the VMDF was looking more broadly and deeply at issues than was the case with previous groups and this was considered beneficial.

The Group discussed the JNC effectiveness workstream which it had commissioned. This workstream comprised representatives of the stakeholders and USS. It would hold a ‘kick off’ meeting on 18 February and would continue to meet with a view to providing an options paper for the Tri-partite Group in March, providing a short update in late February. The Tripartite Group expressed its thanks to all those who had volunteered their time to this workstream.

The Tri-partite Group continued its discussion on sustainability. It was agreed that sustainability was important for ensuring confidence in the Scheme. The Group agreed that sustainability in the context of a scheme like USS had many dimensions. But the group considered the dimensions to be most relevant for USS as: affordability, stability, clarity, adaptability, relevance and viability.

The Group started a discussion on rebuilding trust and confidence and the governance of the Scheme. Each party had set out areas which worked well, areas which worked less well and damaged trust and confidence and measures that could help restore trust and confidence. The Group agreed it would be helpful to continue this discussion at its next meeting.

Future meetings would receive feedback on the results of the employer consultation on the JEP report and the current issues under consideration. In addition, the Group would receive reports of the JNC effectiveness workstream and updates on the VMDF.

 

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Meeting 7

 

The Tri-Partite Group discussed the work of the Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum (VMDF) which had held three meetings. It was noted that the Trustee planned to issue a discussion document on the valuation methodology shortly. Stakeholders emphasized the need for the discussion document and the valuation process to be, and be seen, as collaborative – noting that it is the Trustee’s legal responsibility to set the assumptions. The importance of this document was recognized by all members of the Tri-partite Group.

The Group noted that the JNC effectiveness workstream had held a ‘kick-off’ meeting. This had been a positive meeting. Further meetings were being arranged in order that the workstream could produce an options paper for the Tri-Partite Group.

The Group continued its discussions on a agreeing a common definition of sustainability. It was agreed this should include a clear commitment to the fact that the Stakeholders and the Trustee wanted a sustainable scheme and to define what that means. The Tri-partite Group continued to refine the definition. It was agreed this should include the following features: affordability, stability, clarity, adaptability, relevance, and viability. It was agreed to review the statement further in order to clarify the positions of the Trustee and Stakeholders in the Scheme’s governance arrangements.

It was agreed to return to the question of trust, confidence and governance at a future meeting.

It was agreed that a report on the outcome of the UUK consultation exercise would be given at the next meeting.

Statement of the fifth meeting of the tripartite group

The Tripartite Group continued to hold productive discussions.

The Group noted the progress that had been made regarding the creation of the Valuation Methodology Discussion Forum which the Trustee had established to support and inform the development of the 2020 valuation. It was noted that this Forum would meet for the first time at the beginning of February. The Group also discussed progress with the development of the JNC reform work stream.

The group went on to further consider a definition of sustainability. All parties considered this to be an important concept in the operation of the Scheme and that it would be helpful if the parties could coalesce around a common definition and have greater clarity to build a common understanding. The group considered the core components of sustainability for a scheme such as USS. It was agreed that the group would return to the issue.

It was agreed that further consideration of the question of sustainability would be considered that the next meeting. It was also agreed that future meetings would consider how to rebuild trust and confidence. The group also agreed to hold a discussion on responsible investment, noting that this was an important issue for members.

Joanne Segars